Another week has come and gone as the NHL season continues. The Pittsburgh Penguins have been in hold on mode, looking to weather the storms that they find themselves in. After having so much health and favorable availability for most of the first half of the season, 2023 has not been kind to the Pens. Their starting goalie has been out for almost two weeks now and joining him has been the team’s top three defensemen all absent at the same time. Winning games in the NHL is hard enough as it is, winning without such key players all missing has shown to be almost impossible.
And yet, by winning games in hand, the Penguins still could slide past the Islanders and Capitals and firmly be in a playoff position. Fortunately for the Pens, this is just the week to make sure a move with the lowly Ducks coming to town, followed by a home-and-home with Ottawa, a fellow non-playoff team. In the Sidney Crosby era, these are the types of games that Pittsburgh typically feasts on and pads their record. It may be a bigger challenge than normal these days, but at this point only positive results matter.
Here is what has been going on around the read of the division, with the team’s record in the last week highlighted.
Carolina (2-1-0): The Hurricanes dealt with three division games this week, losing to New Jersey followed up by wins over Columbus and Pittsburgh to end the week. Had Carolina defeated the Devils in regulation, the ‘Canes would have been six points out in front today. But, since Carolina lost, their lead is just two points. It’s not a huge cushion, but they’re still comfortable out in front of the majority of the pack of teams below.
New Jersey (3-0-0): Very impressive week for the Devils, who have shown a lot with recent wins over the Rangers and Hurricanes recently. New Jersey hit a lull for a while after an unsustainably hot start, but they’re proving to have some staying power by defeating strong division opponents. Ondrej Palat, who has missed most of this season, is back healthy and the Devs will no doubt benefit from his presence back with the team.
NY Rangers (2-0-0): It was a week of comebacks for the Rangers. Down 2-0 to Minnesota, NYR got the game to a shootout and won. Then only down 1-0 to Dallas, it still took a third period goal to get the Rangers into OT, where they found a winner there. It’s been a season defined by no lead being safe, and New York was able to perhaps steal a few points in the standings with third period equalizers and then adding extra time goals.
Washington (1-2-0): The good news for Washington is that Nicklas Backstrom and Tom Wilson are back, Backstrom’s return being especially heartening due to the great unknown of dealing with such a major hip surgery. The bad news for Washington is this gives them too many forwards, pushing highly paid (and sometimes highly productive) Anthony Mantha to the fringes of the lineup. Also they lost twice to the Flyers this week, which is a weird look.
NY Islanders (1-1-1): Not a super-impressive week for the Islanders, who at least took down Montreal last night in order to break a four-game losing streak. NYI had three home games this past week, and while the competition was decent (DAL, MIN), they results aren’t much to write home about. Next week gets tougher with games against WSH, BOS and CAR. Still don’t really feel like I understand this Islander team and whether or not they are actually good or not.
Pittsburgh (2-2-0): It looked like the Pens were getting back on track after early in the week wins over Arizona and Vancouver, before the bottom dropped out over the weekend. And, hey, gotta tip your cap to Winnipeg and Carolina, those teams are no joke. The Pens are trying to find their way and really look like they could use some freshening up at some point.
Philadelphia (3-1-0): The Flyers got blown out by Toronto last Sunday, but have shrugged that off to win three straight games. Carter Hart can run hot and cold and now is on the upswing, looking especially good this week in two victories against a Washington team that had been filling the net with regularity until running into the Flyers.
Columbus (1-3-0): CBJ tok it on the chin getting out-scored a combined 13-5 in three losses to strong teams (WSH, TB, CAR). But, hey, last night Patrik Laine had a hat trick and the Blue Jackets held on to take a win over Detroit. Small steps, I suppose.
The season is halfway over now, and the playoff picture is coming into focus more and more. The following models are projecting the Penguins’ playoff chances:
Ineffective Math (as of 1/14): 68.4%
The Athletic (as of 1/14): 87%
Moneypuck model is more pessimistic than the Penguin “fan” who only tweets and comments following losses. But the odds being fairly all over the board from 42-87% goes to show that 95 or 96 points may have Pittsburgh on the outside looking in, and only getting that many points means a low chance. But for modeling that still forecasts a fairly good chance to get to 98-100 points will also carry a very high chance of making the post-season.