This turned out to be a big weekend for the Pittsburgh Penguins.
They successfully rebounded from Thursday’s turdburger of a loss that saw them lose an early 3-0 lead to get back-to-back wins against the Philadelphia Flyers and New York Rangers. Not only did they win both games, they won them both in regulation. The only downside to the weekend is the apparent injury to Jared McCann. He has been great since returning to the lineup, and with Jason Zucker already sidelined the Penguins can not afford to be without another top-nine forward right now. Especially given the way McCann has settled into a spot alongside a suddenly productive Evgeni Malkin and a white-hot Kasperi Kapanen.
Even with that, this is a big weekend. The Penguins needed those four points, and getting them really helped them keep pace in the East Division playoff race.
Entering Monday the Penguins are two points ahead of the Flyers for the fourth spot, tied with the Boston Bruins, three points behind the Washington Capitals and five points behind the New York Islanders.
They important thing to keep in mind, though, is that the Penguins have played two more games than both Boston and Philadelphia and still currently sit just behind them in terms of points percentage.
Here are the current point paces of the top five teams in the division:
New York Islanders: 76
Washington Capitals: 74
Boston Bruins: 73
Philadelphia Flyers: 68
Pittsburgh Penguins: 67
It is close. That is also a significant shift from the way things looked on Thursday after losing to the Flyers.
If the current point pace for the fourth and final playoff spot is 68 points, for the Penguins to reach 69 points they would need to finish with 40 points in their remaining 32 regular season games. A 20-12-0 record would get them there. Or 18-12-2. Or any combination of wins and overtime losses to get them to 40 points. That seems manageable. Especially given the remaining schedule that has them play 19 of their remaining 32 games against the Rangers, New Jersey Devils, and Buffalo Sabres, the three worst teams in the division.
By comparison, the Flyers and Capitals still have SEVEN games against each other, and just so all seven games do not go to overtime or a shootout somebody is going to be losing points there.
The Flyers and Islanders also play six games against each other, where the same thing applies.
While everybody else in the division has already had a significant dose of Buffalo and New Jersey, the Penguins get all of those games in the second half while the Flyers, Islanders, and Capitals are going to beat up on each other, creating an opportunity for the Penguins to continue to gain ground. That of course assumes they take care of business in the games they should.
When you look at the schedules for all the teams involved here it might honestly be the most encouraging thing about the second half and what gives me the most optimism that they are going to be fine and make the playoffs, especially as some important players start to get things going in the right direction.
Obviously the goaltending has turned around. But Evgeni Malkin is the significant one recently. He is still not at the level we have come to expect from Malkin, but the past week has been a big step in the right direction. With a bunch of games against the bottom half of the division on the horizon, and him starting to develop some sort of chemistry with Kapanen, he could be on the verge of going on one of his hot streaks where he records 30 points in 18 games or something. It would certainly be the a perfect time for it.