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The Pittsburgh Penguins path to the 2016 NHL Playoffs

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A look at where the Penguins are, and where they need to get to in order to assure themselves a place in the 2016 NHL playoffs

Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

The Pittsburgh Penguins have made the playoffs 9 years in a row, the second longest active streak in the league. Let's take a peak ahead at what it's going to take to make it 10.

Current standings 3/3/2016

nhlpensplayoffs3316

The dirtbag Flyers are winners of 3 straight games and factors in the playoff race again. The Devils, who weren't expected to do much but have clung at or near a wildcard have lost 3 in a row and are now looking at a severe uphill battle with only 18 games remaining.

In all though, the Penguins are in good position to make the playoffs, even if it isn't a totally solid one.

Crucial schedule

pensmarch16sch

Division games like whoa. Other than this Saturday's game against Calgary, the first 11 games of the month are all against division opponents. Pittsburgh is just 7-6-2 against their Metropolitan friends so far this season, but that is sadly an improvement from last year's record of 9-17-4 record in the division.

The importance of the 4 point swings can't be under-stated. Take tonight's game against the Rangers, currently 8 points up on Pittsburgh and in 2nd place. Seems a long way off, doesn't it? Pittsburgh wins tonight in regulation, suddenly it's 6 points, and depending on how the game in hand goes, they're 4-6 points behind NYR, with still 2 more head-to-head matchups this month. Take 'em all, and the Pens in as high as second place is a possibility.

Of course, the flip-side of the coin is that NYR could be up 10 points on Pittsburgh after tonight with a regulation win, and erasing a double-digit lead with less than 20 games to go is daunting at the least and probably impossible barring a Montreal-style collapse by the Rangers.

Similarly, the 3rd place Islanders are 3 points up on the Pens (NYI does currently have a game in-hand) and the two teams will still meet 3 more times in the regular season. There's an opportunity to make up ground for Pittsburgh, but it will require consistent results.

The target

Sports Club Stats is a fun site this time of year, charting out the probabilities that each team faces given their situation. Here's what they're projecting as playoff percentages for the Penguins this season.

Total Points Chances (%)
88 6.8
89 16.1
90 30.8
91 49.1
92 67.7
93 82.6
94 92.2
95 97.2
96 99.2
97 99.9
98+ 100

For reference, in the 2 seasons the NHL has used this division/wild card playoff format, the line between heaven and here (playoffs vs. 1st team not to make the playoffs) in the East has been:

  • 2014-15: Pittsburgh (98) makes it, Boston (96) does not
  • 2013-14: Detroit (93) makes it, Washington (90) does not

This season, the first team out (Philly) is on pace for 91 points in terms of total season points/game. The last team in the playoffs (Pittsburgh) is on a season long pace of 95 points.

Takeaway: 95 points, at this rate, looks like it will solidly make the playoffs, however to be totally sure the Pens would really need to be 96+.

Record it will take to make target

The Penguins will need to go 11-7-2 in their last 20 games of the season in order to end up with 96 points.

For comparison, Pittsburgh is 12-6-2 in the past 20 games they've played (which is from Jan 15- March 1). Should they get the exact same results in the next 20 games as they've gotten in the last 20, that means 26 more points in the standings, added to the 72 in hand for 98 total, or a 100% chance of making the playoffs.

And, if it makes you feel any better, the Penguins could go 9-9-2 and end up with 92 points, which would be ahead of the current pace Philly is projected to end up with. (Of course though, if they lose multiple head-to-head games with the dirtbags, it will probably increase their pace).

Point being, it's not just the total record that counts, but it will be *which* games the Pens win or lose to determine if they can pass either/both of the NY teams, or end up getting passed by a team under them. The remaining division games will be all important to determine how March goes for the Pittsburgh Penguins. And how March goes, so to will the fate of making the playoffs for a 10th straight year in the Marc-Andre Fleury / Sidney Crosby / Evgeni Malkin era.