Try as they may, and despite winning 12 of their last 14 games, the Penguins remain stuck in fourth place in the Metropolitan Division.
Here’s some stats since December 1st, sorted by points acquired:
- Rangers, 25 (12-6-1, .658 points%)
- Penguins, 24 (12-3-0, .800 points%)
- Hurricanes, 21 (10-3-1, .750 points%)
- Capitals, 18 (7-4-4, .600 points%)
- Islanders, 16 (6-3-4, .615 points%)
- Flyers, 13 (5-9-3, .382 points%)
- Blue Jackets, 11 (5-10-1, .344 points%)
- Devils, 11 (5-11-1, .324 points%)
Hot starts built up early season cushions for NYR and Washington to remain above Pittsburgh in the standings, for the time being at least. The above also goes to illustrate that Philadelphia, Columbus and New Jersey are all just about dead in the water at this point, with basically no chance of making the playoffs.
The Islanders, in terms of team strength and having a ton of games in hand, seem like the one bottom-dwelling team in the division that still could make a move and compete for a playoff spot. But their season is in serious jeopardy right now, too.
Even if NYI won all seven of the games-in-hand they have over Pittsburgh, for instance, they would still trail the Pens by seven points. The Islanders would be eight points behind Boston for the other wild card spot, if they won the five games they have on hand against the Bruins. The Islanders now need a really long winning streak just to catch up to the end of the playoff pack, and that looks questionable to put together a 10-15 game stretch of winning just about every game in order to get back in the picture.
We may know by the end of the month just how much hope they have, NYI plays seven of eight remaining January games at home, including several very winnable games (three against Philly, Arizona, Seattle). If they aren’t playing at a .750%+ rate for the rest of the month, the book can formally and officially be closed on what slim remaining chances the Islanders have left.
For the Pens, escaping fourth place has been a task they haven’t yet been able to grasp, as the Rangers and Caps are finding a way to remain above them. Carolina has been consistent, steady and with a +39 goal differential has looked like a top team at just about all times. But even the Hurricanes suffered a flash 6-0 defeat to Columbus earlier this week —emphasizing that any result could happen on a given night in the NHL.
NYR and Washington remain in curious positions. The Rangers have had a poor 5v5 process, and had to deal with star goalie Igor Shesterkin on the COVID list recently and their season hit a bump. But Shesterkin is back, and so too are the wins for NYR in their last two games. For the Capitals, yesterday they won a 2-0 decision over NYI, to put them in the win column for the first time in calendar 2022 (0-2-2 previously).
The goaltending position in Washington remains problematic, though Vitek Vanecek recorded a shutout yesterday to finally give a quality performance. The troubling news for the Caps remains the inconsistency and at times subpar play of the talented Ilya Samsonov, who has not exactly established himself yet as the top goalie. Vanecek can be capable, but also has the talent level of more of a “1B” type netminder, leaving doubts and questions about how Washington will fare deeper into the season and playoffs.
Scheduling in the second half of the season will also heat up. The Penguins have played Washington twice (1-1-0 record for each team) but Pittsburgh has not seen NYR or Carolina as of yet in the 2021-22 season, with seven total games still to come against those teams.
Themes of the week
The Monday-Tuesday NYI/PHI series: These teams play a back-to-back this week, and the Islanders desperately need to get it in gear.
Bruins vs. the Metro: Boston hosts the Hurricanes on Tuesday and then the Capitals on Thursday. The Bruins are currently one of the NHL’s hottest teams, they’re on a five game winning streak and are 8-1-0 in the last nine games. These should be two playoff caliber matchups of some of the best in the East coming out of Boston this week.
Rangers vs. Hurricanes: On Friday night, first place in the Metro could well be on the line when the Rangers roll into Raleigh for the first NYR/CAR meeting of the season. This will be a big game for January in the regular season anyways as two of the top teams collide.
Penguin Playoff Chances
Here’s what some models say for Pittsburgh’s playoff hopes at this point: