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Friday Thoughts: Kunitz 1000, Metro playoff picture, Schultz return and more

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Looking at various items around the Penguins on an off day. Is the playoff picture coming into focus?

New Jersey Devils v Chicago Blackhawks Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

One of the best days of the year, the Penguins charity event night.

Phil Kessel is always great in the caption game, and he’s also looking like the guy she told you not to worry about.

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Tough Valentine’s Day! My Valentines!

A post shared by Phil Kessel (@phil_kessel_81_) on

And as always Kris Letang gets a yearly selfie in.

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Nice to see old friend Chris Kunitz get into his 1,000th game last night.

Kunitz spent 569 of those in a Pens jersey. Have to wonder what he was thinking as a 26 year old in October 2005, getting waived by the Atlanta Thrashers. At that point he only had 23 career NHL games - and exactly zero NHL goals. The Atlanta Thrashers weren’t exactly a juggernaut and Kunitz wasn’t exactly at a promising spot.

Who would have known such a full career, Olympic gold medal and four Stanley Cups would be in the future? Just goes to show you never know in life what could be right around the bend! Remarkable career for Kunitz.

Here’s a link to the Youtube video tribute, if that’s your thing.

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When will we see Justin Schultz back in a game? Seems like the answer to that is up to Schultz himself.

“It’s up to me,” Schultz said Thursday after participating in another practice with the team. “When I feel I’m ready to play, I’ll be in.”

Schultz acknowledged he has been cleared by the doctors, but the process has to return at the right pace and that timing will be key.

“It’s going to be tough the first couple of games. The quicker I [can] get back in, the better.”

Just thinking logically, with two games Saturday and Sunday afternoon, does it make sense to play two days in a row? That would seem to be a tough climb. So, just spitballin’ and reading between the lines of Schultz’s comments in his media scrum, a Sunday return (against a division rival, no less) might make the most sense.

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A mixed bag yesterday for the Penguins in the standings. And they didn’t even play but we saw across the league two important games.

The first place New York Islanders continued their winning ways, dropping Columbus 3-0. CBJ losing is very good for the Pens.

Somewhat surprisingly given a weak history in SJ, the Capitals were able to defeat the Sharks 5-1 on the road. Washington’s been up and down in calendar 2019 but this seems like a big win to kick off a western road trip.

Here’s how the picture looks this morning:

NYI is leaving the pack a little bit. The Pens remain 2-4 points behind Washington depending on how Pittsburgh’s game in hand goes. Columbus is 0-2 points ahead of the Pens depending on how their game in hand goes. CBJ with 32 regulation/OT wins has a decided tie-breaker edge over WSH and PIT (both 29 currently).

It’s certainly looking like at this point the 2v3 match in the Metro is going to be two of PIT/CBJ/WSH. But one of those teams (or even Carolina!) will be kicked to the Wild Card which mans, as current, the Pens would be staring down a first round matchup with Tampa, and a second round path of the TOR/BOS series winner. Probably not a path a team would like to have to take.

This weekend the key team to keep an eye on isn’t even in the playoff hunt. The New York Rangers play Buffalo today and then the Penguins on Sunday afternoon. Can NYR play spoiler to either team? Will they be easy road kill for the contenders to pick up points? That’s about the best storyline of this weekend for the Metropolitan race.