The Pittsburgh Penguins remain firmly in the middle of the pack for the chase of the 2019 NHL playoffs, but their status is far from firm. With 74 points in the standings after 63 games, the Pens are in a basically a dead heat with the Carolina Hurricanes (identical 74 points in 63 games) and Columbus (73 points in 62 games). Montreal is right with these three teams fighting for a wildcard spot.
As far as the standings go, Pittsburgh hasn’t fared well in 2019. They finished the month of February with a middling an unimpressive 6-5-2 record. This followed January’s similarly meh record of 6-5-0.
The Pens need a big March, and it’s certainly going to be a very busy one with 16 games jammed into the 31 days, including a hectic 14 games by the 25th of the month.
This is an interesting schedule. There’s two games against Columbus, two against Carolina, one in Montreal and one against Washington (who have played one more game than the Pens, and are five points ahead). Those six games are by far the most important, since losses are crucially damaging to know the other team is getting points at Pittsburgh’s expense.
But, make no mistake, all the games are important. There are five games against teams “dead in the water” just playing out the stretch with little-to-no real hope of making the playoffs; one against NYR, Philly and Florida and two against Buffalo. These should be close to must-win scenarios, the Pens have long dropped points to bad teams but need to take wins at this point of the season.
Because there are several games (Boston, Nashville, @Nashville, @Dallas, St Louis) against pretty good playoff, competitive playoff teams. Going .500 or slightly here would be sufficient, anything more a bonus, anything less a concern.
But it’s really going to come down to the Columbus/Carolina games as to if this month is a success or not, and likely if Pittsburgh is in a prime playoff position or not. They only have three games in April — though all those games are against bad teams (two vs Detroit, one NYR), which could be a late bonus. However March is crucial.
Luckily, over the years, March has been a month when Pittsburgh flips the proverbial switch.
Marches of the Penguins
Under Mike Sullivan the Pens are a super-strong 30-12-5 in the last three months of March. That extends out to a 113-point full season pace.
Unfortunately this team has seemed to resemble the end of Dan Bylsma (2014) or now in recent days the ultra-injured version of the Pens in 2015 that limped through March. Neither team made much noise.
For this team, however, March comes with a huge challenge but also a huge opportunity. If Pittsburgh finds a way to do very well in March, they’re likely chugging along to their 13th consecutive playoff berth in the Sidney Crosby / Evgeni Malkin era.