Last season, the Penguins were one of the top dogs in the Metro and Eastern Conference and owned one of the most successful home records in the entire NHL.
With a stellar 30-9-2 showing at PPG Paints Arena, a fifth place slot in the East, and after finishing just five points back of their rivals and eventual Stanley Cup champions Washington Capitals with 100, the Penguins fought hard in a down-to-the-wire arms race for second place in the division, carrying loads of confidence once they officially earned their seed into the 2018 NHL Playoffs.
So far in 2018-19, regular success on home ice and versus eastern foes all seems like a distant memory.
Instead, the Penguins have bottomed out at home with a 4-5-2 record and turtled against just about every east coast opponent they’ve seen, including a back-to-back-to-back-to back egg-laying against the Devils, Lightning, Senators, and Sabres. In 13 games played, Pittsburgh possesses a lowly 2-8-3 (1-4-1 Metro, 1-4-2 Atlantic) against the East — good for second-to-last place in the Metro, third-to last in the Eastern Conference, and 27th in the league.
On the bright side, the Penguins have been beating the Western Conference to a pulp, stringing together an almost perfect 6-0-1 record, including the likes of a rising Flames team, the surprising Canucks and Coyotes, the limping Stars, the Golden Knights, and well...the Oilers, proving that they’re not dead in the water just yet.
The problem is that Pittsburgh has a very tough upcoming schedule chock-full of intimidating Eastern Conference teams before the Christmas break begins, beginning with the Bruins in Boston tonight. It includes six games against fellow Metro opponents, eight games at home in Pittsburgh, and nine games in total against the East.
If the Penguins want to have the right to even sniff the two Wild Card spots at the end of the regular season, they’ll likely have to earn 83 points post-Thanksgiving, as five (!) teams in the Atlantic Division are currently on pace for at least 100 points. It doesn’t help when you consider they still have yet to face the Predators, Jets, and Wild. If the Penguins never lose in overtime and/or a shootout to earn a single point from a game (which they will, but just for perspective sake), that’s 42 wins needed in the next four and a half months.
Slow starts, especially vs. teams inside your division and conference, can be quite damning. As we saw Wednesday night against the (albeit hurt) Stars though, these Penguins are obviously still skilled enough to pull it off. However, they will likely need to string together a number of wins and greatly improve their play against Eastern Conference opponents to get back in playoff contention.