This most unusual 2020-21 season is finally, and already, almost over. So much of the last year+ has been so crazy and unprecedented, it almost flies under the radar just how different and unusual this season has been for hockey.
A 56 game season, playing only the seven other divisional opponents is a truly landmark NHL season. Starting in January and ending about now, it’s crammed in as many games as possible, with players enduring an unending barrage of COVID tests and distancing measures to keep them safe.
It’s been a wild ride, and while no one is likely to reflect back and think of this time too much as the world slowly tries to lurch ahead and out of the grips of this weird and dark time, it has still be a really remarkable NHL season, in the most true sense of the word.
The Penguins have two more games left, against last place Buffalo. The games are meaningful for Pittsburgh, they may be able to claim home ice for at least the first round of the playoffs. There’s also an outside chance to win the division, depending on how the last handful of games go for themselves and also the results for Washington and Boston.
With those two Sabres games left to go and all other season series complete, here’s a look back on how the Pens have fared against their competition this very unique year.
- Washington Capitals: 6-2-0
- Boston Bruins: 3-4-1
- New York Islanders: 6-2-0
- New York Rangers: 6-2-0
- Philadelphia Flyers: 3-4-1
- New Jersey Devils: 6-1-1
- Buffalo Sabres: 5-1-0
The Pens took a winning record against 5/7 division opponents, and thanks to NHL fuzzy math were able to go nearly .500 against the other two teams.
Playoff opponents were no problem, with Pittsburgh going 15-8-1 against their future playoff foes. That would be a typical full 82 game season of a 106 point pace, against pretty elite competition being that the four best teams in the East are in the top 11 in the NHL currently in points.
It’s been even better against non-playoff opponents. The Pens have run them over, with one unfortunate asterisk that we will get to in a bit. Pittsburgh is 20-8-2 against teams that won’t be making the playoffs, with the two more against Buffalo still to go to improve on that even further.
There have really only been two bumps in the road — the Boston Bruins and the Philadelphia Flyers.
The first makes sense, the Bruins are a good team, matchup well against the Pens and have elite goaltending. The Pens almost never win in the city of Boston, they went just 1-2-1 this year @BOS, where at least they won a game for the first time since 2015.
The record against the Flyers is a bit more difficult to reconcile. Pittsburgh wasn’t playing well to start the season, and the first two games of the year were Flyers/Pens. Philly won 6-3 and 5-2 quickly and just like that, after a one week training camp, the Pens were left to wonder what in the world just hit them. Eventually they would get on track. There’s also that mid-season game where the Pens jumped out to a 3-0 lead against the Flyers, only to somehow blow it and lose 4-3 in regulation. Reverse that game and find a way to hold on and Pittsburgh can take a winning 4-3-1 season series against their rivals, but it didn’t go that way.
From the Flyers’ angle, they went 5-3-0 against Pittsburgh this season. Which means against the rest of the division, Philly won just 18 of the other 45 games that they’ve played this year (18-20-7).
Overall, the Pens really made their bones this season going a combined 12-4-0 against Washington and the Islanders. That’s a really, really strong record against two higher-end teams. If you could know that and nothing else in January, it would be enough to realize that the Pens were going to comfortably chart a course to the playoffs, and that’s pretty much exactly what they’ve done.
This could be one of the best seasons in franchise history, it’s currently the 4th best year in terms of points%, with third place easily attainable pending the results of the two games against Buffalo. Only the 1992-93 and 2012-13 lockout years would be higher than this season in Pens’ history.
Playoffs are just around the corner and looming, but with much of the season series all wrapped up this looked like a good point to look back on how the year has gone and point out that the Pens have been able to accomplish quite a bit so far in a most unusual and unique season setup.