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In 14 games, the Penguins reshaped their 2022 playoff prospects

In 15 games, Pittsburgh marked a 5-6-4 record. Over the next 14, they went 11-2-1.

Buffalo Sabres v Pittsburgh Penguins
Jeff Carter celebrates his overtime goal to seal a 3-2 win over the visiting Sabres on December 17.
Photo by Emilee Chinn/Getty Images

In their first 15 games of 2021-22, from October 12 to November 16, the Penguins marked a 5-6-4 record. In their next 14, they went 11-2-1— and turned around the outlook of their entire season.

According to HockeyViz’s Micah Blake McCurdy, the Penguins were predicted to finish the season with just 56.5 points as of November 15. One month later, Pittsburgh had increased their point production to such a rate that they were estimated to finish the season with 98.3 points. (As of December 15, McCurdy posited the cut for the postseason this year to sit around 91.2 points for the Metropolitan Division.)

By December 15, the Penguins’ predicted end-of-season points total had nearly doubled from HockeyViz’s November 15 prediction.

Since November 18, the Penguins have tied with the Lightning for the NHL lead in wins, while leading the entire NHL with a .821 point percentage.

But this stunning change in their playoff prospects isn’t just because of the Penguins’ success during this stretch: it’s also due to their division opponents’ struggles.

Pittsburgh is the only Metropolitan team to have recorded a higher point percentage during the second half of this season than the first. Even the Capitals, who heading into December 18 lead the entire NHL with 43 points, have grabbed a smaller portion of available points during this stretch relative to the first half of their season.

Metropolitan Division points percentages

Team Points percentage, P1 (10/12-11/17) Points percentage, P2 (11/18-12/17) Percent change from P1 to P2
Team Points percentage, P1 (10/12-11/17) Points percentage, P2 (11/18-12/17) Percent change from P1 to P2
Penguins 0.615 0.821 +0.206
Capitals 0.714 0.692 -0.022
Rangers 0.722 0.679 -0.043
Hurricanes 0.712 0.607 -0.105
Blue Jackets 0.481 0.422 -0.059
Islanders 0.457 0.375 -0.082
Flyers 0.481 0.321 -0.16
Devils 0.426 0.286 -0.14

The Penguins have strung together this victorious second half of 2021-22 so far without Evgeni Malkin (who has yet to skate this season) Bryan Rust (who has missed ten games, out since November 24) and Jake Guentzel (absent for five games, since December 4).

Since dipping in and out of a playoff spot at the beginning of the season, injury-ridden Pittsburgh is now supported by a relatively comfortable cushion of six points from the second wild-card team in the East (Detroit) and seven from the next team pushing at the outside of the Eastern bubble (Boston) heading into December 18.

With a potential COVID-19 pause looming, continuing this momentum isn’t guaranteed. Still, the Penguins have put themselves in an excellent spot for the potential return of three of their four best forwards.