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Penguins making the push to the playoffs

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Comparing the Penguins’ recent hot streak to their most direct competition.

Pittsburgh Penguins v Washington Capitals Photo by Patrick Smith/Getty Images

Momentum, one of those hot button words that gets thrown around a lot in the sporting world.

People talk about momentum from period to period, shift to shift, even over the course of several weeks. Vaguely speaking, we all know carrying momentum is important, but we don’t really have a way to quantify its importance. Luckily for me, given my limited capabilities, that’s a question I don’t have to answer myself.

The Athletic’s ($) Dom Luszczyszyn broke this down a few weeks ago, coming to the conclusion that it’s close to a crap shoot more or less. Hotter teams generally do better in the playoffs than colder teams, but not in any form of guaranteed sense.

“WHAT DOES THIS HAVE TO DO WITH THE PENGUINS”

Relax, I’m getting there.

If you go to NHL.com’s standings, you’ll see right away that the Penguins are 6-2-2 in their last 10, and prior to Friday night’s loss to Nashville, they were the owners of a modest three-game winning streak. Not bad.

However, I think the key takeaway from Dom’s analysis is to not overreact to a modest stretch of success going into the playoffs, something we are prone to do. That said, when we step back and view the teams record since the trade deadline, the snapshot is a more impressive 11-3-2, good for a 68.75 percent winning percentage.

Wow, that’s a huge boost! Winning almost 70 percent of your games for more than a month, especially after many of us were dissatisfied with one particular deadline move, is exactly what you want to see heading into the playoffs. It’s also worth pointing out that the teams season long win rate is a much more modest 53.8 percent, meaning they’re playing well above average relative the standard they’ve set for themselves.

That’s awesome. Winning at that level really is a good predictor for potential success this spring, but it’s important that we don’t view this record in a vacuum.

Given the NHL’s current playoff format, there is a pretty strong chance the Penguins will play the Islanders in the first round. Should the team win that series they would most likely face — stop me if you’ve heard this one before — Washington in the second round. Let’s compare these teams’ records.

The Isles have put together a record of 6-4-0 over their last ten games, virtually identical to that of Pittsburgh’s when you take away loser points. Since the deadline however, New York is a less inspiring 10-8-0, playing barely above .500 hockey and have fallen far from their perch atop the Metro not too long ago.

This tells us that both teams are trending in opposite directions. Now only four points up on the Pens for second in the division, I think it’s fair to say that the Penguins are trending to be the favourite in that series (Moneypuck currently has them at over 50 percent to make it to round two).

The Capitals are another story altogether. Not dissimilar from the other teams in the division, Washington has won six of their last 10 and are 12-3-1, including a seven-game winning streak, since the deadline. I’d be remiss if I didn’t point out that two of those losses came against the powerhouse Tampa Bay Lightning, who they beat last night.

Moneypuck currently has the Penguins as the favourite at present despite the relatively comparable records since the end of February, but given the context we’ve outlined above, it will almost certainly be another hard fought series should these two squads meet for the fourth consecutive year.

So, the Penguins are indeed very hot right now, and have been doing much of this damage without the aid of one Kris Letang. In most divisions, they would be the clear favourite based on their recent play. However, they happen to play in a division which has produced the last three championship teams.

This hot stretch has begun to conjure images of the 2016 team who famously won more than 65 percent of their games after Mike Sullivan took over on their way to a first of back to back cups. During that run, it almost felt like a forgone conclusion that Pittsburgh would win each series. I think viewing this season through the same lens would be foolish despite how great they played in March. There is room for optimism in this squad’s chances, but it’s important to remember that they most likely have a date the Capitals in a few weeks time.

Regardless of how this shakes out, we’re in for some exciting hockey come April 6.