The Pittsburgh Penguins have played 51 games this season, but none of them have been against the other two best teams in the division. And now, finally, the Pens will see both the Carolina Hurricanes and New York Rangers in the next week, which could lead to significant swings in the standings for all of the top three teams. Here’s the current status:
Pittsburgh and Carolina is tied, though the Hurricanes’ three games in hand stands out quite a bit. The Rangers with two games in hand have a potential leg up on the Pens as well, though.
Here is the week that was for the big four teams.
Carolina (1-1-1) - It’s been a very challenging stretch all month with scheduling, and the Canes have managed to tread water in it. They lost 3-2 in regulation last Saturday in Minnesota and then dropped a 3-2 OT game to Florida before ending the week on an up note by taking a 5-3 victory over Nashville.
Also, just kinda a random observation that doesn’t fit anywhere but kinda worth sharing - the Carolina offensive style tends to be different than the quick counter-attacking that usually gives the Pens a lot of trouble (and that teams like Toronto on Thursday utilized so successfully).
The CAR model of offence is something.— JFresh (@JFreshHockey) February 15, 2022
Few controlled transition plays, many clears and dump-ins. Relatively few rush chances. Lots of point shots, deflections, and rebounds.
Yet it works.#LetsGoCanes
(Data from @ShutdownLine) pic.twitter.com/S8uR897op1
It will be interesting to see these two styles clash, especially since the teams haven’t played in almost two full calendar years. “Styles make fights”, as they say in boxing, and while Carolina is a very strong team, a potential PIT/CAR playoff series might be a good playing matchup for Pittsburgh, or as good as any matchup against a top team in the league could be.
Pittsburgh: (2-1-0) - Two early wins in the week against non-playoff teams (NJ, PHI) help the Pens keep in striking distance of the top spot. The schedule gets tougher, so wins won’t come as easily in the near future (the Hurricanes themselves have won just two of five February games with a tough schedule).
NY Rangers: (1-0-1) - New York returned from a two-week layoff this week, seeing two home games end in a shootout. NYR took the decision and beat the Bruins in a shootout on Tuesday, but then dropped the gimmick ending on Thursday to Detroit. Big week coming up with games against both Washington and Pittsburgh.
Washington (2-1-0) - After looking lifeless in a 4-1 loss to Ottawa on Sunday, the Capitals found a way to two road wins (4-1 in Nashville, 5-3 in Philly) to close out the week and now get a week off. John Carlson put it well, saying after the Flyers game - “These are big points for us right now. Everything is not going as smoothly as we all hope, but through those times where you feel like you don’t have your A-game, coming away with wins is just as important.” The Caps are kinda in survival mode to see what happens when they get TJ Oshie and Anthony Mantha back from the IR.
Upcoming games to watch
Business is definitely about to pick up in the Metro, with the top teams colliding frequently now in the last part of the season.
Sunday: Carolina @ Pittsburgh
—It’s an early 1:00pm start, but should be a very good one to kick off a great week of action at PPG Paints Arena. The goaltending matchups will be a huge challenge for the Pens, they’re likely to see the two best goalies in the league at keeping the puck out of the net. They can counter those duels with Tristan Jarry, who is right up there with them.
Goals Saved Above Expected Leaders - February 19 pic.twitter.com/9I765OWNEa— JFresh (@JFreshHockey) February 19, 2022
The Pens and Canes have three regular games this season, and they will all be conducted over just a three-week span (Feb 20, Mar 4, Mar 13). This first game could really set the tone and show both teams what they will be up against quite a bit in the near-future against one another.
In the current scheduling matrix, the Pens play five division teams four times (PHI, WSH, NJ, NYR, CBJ) and drew Carolina and NYI as the teams this season that they only meet three times. In a perfect world for balance, you would think an 84-game season to even out all division opponents play each other four times a piece, but I suppose the current regular season is long enough as it is. Just an interesting wrinkle that PIT/CAR happens one time less than most the other Metro action.
Thursday: Washington @ NYR
—A regulation ending is by far the most preferable scenario for Pittsburgh. One of these teams is bound to pick up two points, but if the loser ends up with zero in the standings, that would be a positive.
Next Saturday, 2/26: NYR @ Pittsburgh
—This game will be at 3:00pm, an odd start time for the NHL and especially considering this is a marquee matchup of top teams and markets for the sport. This will also be something of a one-off, since PIT/NYR don’t meet again for about another month until March 25th.
Race for the top
The jockeying for the division win (and right to play a Wild Card team in the first round) is really heating up. Here’s how it looked before last night’s action, with Carolina doing themselves well when they beat Nashville.
Point projections over the past fortnight. pic.twitter.com/n3XMek6HLC— Micah Blake McCurdy (@IneffectiveMath) February 18, 2022
Before the Thursday games (where the Pens slipped and lost in Toronto), Micah’s projection was basically a dead heat with Carolina headed for 107.5 points and the Pens on track for 107.4.
That will make tomorrow’s game a huge swing if the contest ends in regulation, a Pens win would likely have them boosted up for the moment. A regulation Pittsburgh loss doesn’t end hopes for winning the division, there are still 30 games left, but it would make the hole a bit deeper.
It looks very probable at this point the Atlantic division champ will end up as the top seed in the East and draw the lower of the Wild Card teams. That race is even more exciting with Toronto, Tampa and Florida in a little three-way dance duking it out.