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After 10 strong games, Penguins playoff chances on the upswing

The Penguins have hit their stride in the past 10 games and the team’s playoff chances have improved greatly over the last few weeks

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Carolina Hurricanes v Pittsburgh Penguins

As the calendar is a week away from flipping to February and the Penguins only have one more game before the All-Star break, standings watch season (for fans at least) is in full throat. Here’s the NHL Standings as of today in the East:

Pittsburgh has played among the highest number of games just about all season and with all the bye weeks done that continues to be the case, with the Penguins having a conference high 50 games played to date. That’s mostly a negative, since others have at least a game in hand. However, games in hand only matter if a result is received.

And, at least the Pens will get at least a night or two off that others have to play? If you’re a very positive glass half full type that’s a goo outlook to have.

Last last 10 games is a nice round number, and it’s also the number of games Pittsburgh has played in 2018 so far. Consider that since January 1st, the Pens are:

  • 1st in the league with 96 total High Danger Scoring chances generated at 5v5
  • 1st in 5v5 Scoring Chances For % (55.1%)
  • 5th in Corsi For % at 5v5 (52.65%)
  • 9th in the league in 5v5 GF% (55.0%)
  • 13th in the league in 5v5 shooting %

The last number might be the biggest music to Pens fans ears that more shots are finally starting to score. As long-time close followers of advanced stats will know, Pittsburgh has been abominable all season - even 3 weeks ago they were shooting about 5.5% by far the lowest in the league. Now with this hot stretch they’re at least above 6% and trending back towards the rest of the league:

This is a great sign and some positive regression. As many have been holding out hope, the Pens big guns are starting to take over and produce.

Stats in last 10 games:

Sidney Crosby: 3 goals, 14 assists

Evgeni Malkin: 7g+6a

Phil Kessel: 5g+8a

Carl Hagelin: 1g+5a

Patric Hornqvist: 3g+2a

Dominik Simon: 3g+2a

Conor Sheary: 2g+2a

Riley Sheahan: 1g+3a

There’s still some room for improvement (Jake Guentzel only has 2g+0a but he scored last night) and Bryan Rust just played in his first game of 2018 last night as well, recording a nice assist. Either way, it’s a great sign when 87, 71 and 81 are driving the bus as well as they have been in the last 10 games.

As a result, according to some playoff project models the Pens are sitting in fairly good shape today:

Globe and Mail: 83%

Dom (The Athletic) 75% chance of making the playoffs with a projection to finish with 93.8 points, good for 3rd in the division

Hockey Viz: 67%

SportsClub Stats: 53.7%

But there isn’t much room for error, a 3-4 game losing streak would tank a lot of those percentages, especially if it’s to division foes, so nothing is clearly resolved with 32-35 games left around the league.

Either way though, the Penguins have been playing a lot better in calendar 2018 and are now strengthening their bid for another playoff push. After the malaise of early season struggles the team appears to be hitting their stride at just the right time of the year. Again.