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Breaking down Penguins’ final regular season games and their playoff implications

With a huge win over the Capitals in game No. 70, we turn our eyes forward to Pittsburgh’s remaining 12 games.

NHL: Washington Capitals at Pittsburgh Penguins Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

After earning a massive win against the Washington Capitals Tuesday night in their 70th game of the regular season, and racking up a sparkling 6-1-1 record since dropping a gut-wrenching, last minute loss to the Flyers in the 2019 Stadium Series, the Penguins have taken all the injury adversity hitting their lineup in stride and sit in really good position to make the playoffs.

And now, with just 12 games left in the 2018-19 regular season, Pittsburgh turns its attention to its remaining schedule and is keeping one eye firmly locked on the standings.

However, starting Thursday night in Buffalo against the struggling Sabres (without captain Jack Eichel, who will serve the second of a two-game suspension), the road to tasting the sweet relief of postseason play for the current NHL leading 13th-straight season won’t come easily. The Penguins have a handful of tough games to trudge through, including a back-to-back with the newly-resurgent St. Louis Blues and rival Philadelphia Flyers, the Carolina Hurricanes twice, who are right on their heels in the Metro and have a game in hand on them, the second-ranked in the Central Nashville Predators twice, and the New York Rangers, another Metro foe who has a game in hand that the Penguins also must beat.

While the aforementioned games seem a little daunting, it goes to mention that in those upcoming match-ups, the Penguins also play already-eliminated Detroit twice in a row in a home-and-home, and in the second tilt with the Canes, Carolina will be facing Pittsburgh on the latter leg of a back-to-back.

According to data analyst Micah Blake McCurdy’s (@IneffectiveMath) projection model, the Penguins are currently expected to finish the regular season with 98.4 points, beating out Carolina and Columbus to solidify a playoff spot with home advantage and avoid the drama of Wild Card contention.

And if they keep winning, their expected points gained per contest is at about 1.5. On the flip side, any regulation loss will lose them 1.3 to 1.4 expected points per game in the standings. These numbers are all based on Tuesday night’s scores where both the Blue Jackets and Canadiens won in regulation.

Chart by Micah Blake McCurdy (@IneffectiveMath)

So, to put it bluntly, it’s crunch time. Dropping games agains bad teams (i.e., Buffalo, Detroit, NYR, etc.) like Pittsburgh is notorious for at this point is unacceptable, and too many losses can derail the Penguins’ 2019 postseason dreams entirely if they’re compounded by wins from those chasing them. A winning record, much like the streak they’ve been on, is prudent to their situation. As if we all didn’t already know!