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Sunday Standings: Why the two NY teams are the ones to watch for the Penguins

Staying in front of both NY teams in the Metropolitan will be crucial for the Penguins

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New York Islanders v New York Rangers Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

Welcome back to Sunday standings, our nice cool down to a week of action. Here’s how the Metropolitan Division is looking this morning, as well as the week that was for all of the teams:

New Jersey (2-0-1): A big 5-3 win on Monday over the rival Rangers gives more evidence that the Devils are for real this year. Almost everything is going right for them, starting with the NHL’s second star of the November, Vitek Vanecek. After being picture in the dictionary next to the word “mediocre” with Washington, Vanecek has been on the heater this season.

Carolina (3-0-0): Carolina dug deep to pull out an OT win in Pittsburgh on Tuesday. This whole season has been an uphill struggle for them, they’ve made the regular season look pretty easy the past few years, a week like this to string together some wins was just what they needed. Because of that, they’re taking care of business and staying well up the table, and should be in great position if they are able to get more health.

NY Islanders (0-2-0): Last week we asked in this feature if the Islanders are actually good, or not good. This week doesn’t add much evidence, the 4-1 loss to Nashville was inflated by a pair of empty net goals against, but the Isles let the Flyers get off the hook on their 10-gam losing streak as well. NYI only scored one goal in each of the two games they had this week. Not great. But next week is a new chance, and they built up a good enough record in the first 20 games of the year to survive a little bump in the road — if that’s all that this is.

Pittsburgh (2-0-1): After being on the road for much of November, the Pens needed to stack points at home lately, and they have. Take away two Toronto regulation losses (like many, the Pens have an Auston Matthews + Mitch Marner problem) and Pittsburgh is 7-0-1 overall since November 15th.

NY Rangers (1-2-1): It’s not going well in Manhattan for the hockey club right now. The week opened with the loss to the Devils, which - hey, first place team who couldn’t be much hotter at the moment, sometimes that happens and you run into a buzzsaw at the wrong time. HOWEVA, going 1-1-1 over the rest of the week against @Ottawa, Ottawa, Chicago is less than impressive. The Rangers have not been able to find their footing this season, and it’s starting to get to a concerning degree of failing to find ways to string some wins together.

Washington (1-1-1): The Capitals have been on a west coast swing, so these results can be considered OK with that context in mind and if you check their 3-8-3 road record on the season. Washington just seems content or only able to hang around right now until they get a little healthier, but at under a .500 points% this deep into the season, it’s going to start to “get late pretty early” or however the old Yogi Berra quote goes. The Caps have made the playoffs the last eight seasons and 14 out of the last 15, but their status as a perennial post-season participant is in extreme doubt and danger at this point.

Philadelphia (1-2-0): As mentioned above, for the first time in 11 tries the Flyers won a game on Tuesday. Isn’t that cute? They’re already back on a two-game losing streak since that point, and in headline of the week “John Tortorella compares Morgan Frost to toilet seat”, so that’s how it’s going for those guys.

Columbus (1-0-1): A rare successful week for the Blue Jackets this season, they dropped a shootout to Vegas but then Patrik Laine scored a goal in his second return game to Winnipeg in a 4-1 CBJ win.

Why the NY teams matter most to the Penguins right now

The Penguins haven’t played a game against either the Rangers or Islanders so far in 2022-23, but those are the teams to keep an eye on at this point. If Pittsburgh stays ahead of both New York based divisional rivals, not only are they almost a lock for the playoffs, they will probably avoid the wild card as well.

From Dom Luszczyszyn’s work and models at The Athletic, take a look at the playoff chances over the course of the season. The model doesn’t like the chances or strength of either NY team very much. (This is not updated with Saturday’s results).

This model has the Pens on the path for a comfortable third place finish in the division. Will that be the case? The Islanders have probably out-performed expectations so far in the first quarter of the season. The Rangers are on the opposite end of the spectrum, where ironically this year they have a solid 5v5 process, but haven’t gotten the goaltending expected in situations to get a lot of wins this year (after being the polar opposite last season).

For the Pens, though, with Washington wandering in the wilderness and Philly/CBJ both flat-lining already, if they stay ahead of the two NY teams in the standings, the playoff picture is looking very, very favorable. Something like that is easier said than done, and all the teams are grouped very closely through the first 25 games, but let’s see what happens in the next 25.

Based on the above model, the Pens are above the fray a little, and there might just be one playoff spot for NYI/WSH/NYR to fight it out for.