The first round of the NHL playoffs is drawing closer and closer and some clarity is coming into play. For the Penguins, it’s looking likely to be a familiar for in the Columbus Blue Jackets. From SportsClubStats:
At 55.1%, a Pittsburgh/Columbus matchup is strong at this moment, though obviously not inevitable yet. This is the most likely 2 vs 3 pairing for the Metropolitan Division. It’s not set in stone though, since New Jersey is but 1 point behind both teams and Philly is 2 back.
Some worry wart fans have been floating the worst case scenario that the Pens could fall all the way to the #8 seed, the Wild Card 2 spot. And as you can see above, there’s still at 4.2% chance as of today that Pittsburgh plays Tampa or Boston. Even that math seems high considering it needs 2 Pittsburgh regulation losses PLUS Philly AND NJD both going at least 1-0-1 in their final two. Which if you saw Philly give up 5 goals and lose night against a non-playoff team, you’d know the only bet is there is no bet on them Pretty much, the Pens finishing 8th shouldn’t be happening just based off the final PIT/OTT game at all (let alone the PIT/CBJ game as a chance to get points).
The possibility to be the Wild Card #1 team (finish 4th in the Metro) is at 10.8% today. If the Pens lose in regulation tomorrow to CBJ, 3rd is likely the best they will do on the season, and with close teams they could be in danger of slipping behind one of NJ/PHI with a strong finish. Again, though, if the Pens lose to Ottawa on Friday they deserve whatever seed they get.
As of now, there is a slight chance NJ or PHI will climb over Columbus and make it to the #3 seed to face the #2 seeded Pens. These odds will rise if Pittsburgh can defeat the Blue Jackets in regulation tomorrow. The key phrase in that last sentence is “as of now” because if CBJ loses to the Pens tomorrow and NJ wins, the odds are going to drastically shift in an instant when we look at this 48 hours from now.
A regulation win tomorrow almost clinches #2 for the Pens. It will ensure due to tiebreakers that CBJ can’t pass them. They would need NJD to lose 1 of their 2 remaining games (TOR, @WSH) in any fashion. Or the Pens could just beat/lose it OT/SO to Ottawa and it wouldn’t matter they are #2 and have home ice for round 1.
But as Evgeni Malkin said yesterday, it doesn’t matter to him. “It doesn’t matter what place you’re in when the playoffs come,” Malkin said. “It’s new.”
Saw something interesting in The Athletic the other day (frequent sentence). The article was about the Devils draft picks and they were picking the brain of assistant GM Tom Fitzgerald. Fitzgerald was in charge of player development with the Penguins in 2009 (also joining the bench as assistant coach in the Stanley Cup run) and then was promoted and served as assistant GM from 2009-15.
We liked the player, and that’s why signed him so quickly. I believe this wholeheartedly: You give a kid an opportunity if he earns it. Second, the player has to take advantage of the opportunity. We leave the door open a little, and the player says, ‘I’m going to kick that door down and take advantage of this.’ Third, You have to then consistently do it. It can’t be two good games, then five off. It has to be consistent, and that’s what Jesper did. That’s how NHL players are made.
Fitzgerald is talking about Jesper Fast above, but it’s not difficult to think about young players like Bryan Rust, Olli Maatta and Jake Guentzel that Fitzgerald presided over a lot of the drafting/developing of in Pittsburgh. Even more recently the above might be insight as to why management types prefer a Zach Aston-Reese over a Daniel Sprong in terms of consistency and making most of opportunities. Just an interesting note to consider.
Phil Kessel was injured against Montreal with a slash on the hands. He’s also been reported by the media to have a noticeable limp. To be Phil is to be in a constant state of discomfort -- don’t forget in the 2016 playoffs when he was so good he also was doing it with a hurt wrist that required off-season surgery — but one wonders if he shouldn’t just sit the last 2 games and be more rested for the playoffs.
In the service of a 691 game ironman streak, that shouldn’t be expected. But that streak seems more like a burden and potential cloud over the Pens playoffs than anything else right now.