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Sunday Standings: Good time for a break

For the Penguins, the bye week/all-star break has come at a good time

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Pittsburgh Penguins v Washington Capitals Photo by John McCreary/NHLI via Getty Images

The 2022-23 NHL season has now hit the best week of the whole year for players: the bye week where they can jet off to warm, tropical beaches and get some R&R. There are only a handful of games this week through Wednesday and then the league puts on their showcase of the All-Star game next weekend from Miami (or Sunrise, whatever).

Here’s how the standings look this week, with not much to likely change for quite a while:

We’ll quickly take a trip around the division for interesting and pithy news and notes about the week that was, with the team’s record over the past week highlighted.

Carolina (2-0-0): Two games and two overtime wins for the Hurricanes this week. Friday night’s game against San Jose was one of the most dramatic comebacks of the whole season, Carolina was down 4-2 to the Sharks with just two minutes to play. Through the magic of a pulled goalie, Sebastien Aho scored and then Martin Necas tied the game with only 12 seconds left. Necas would tack on another goal 55 seconds into OT to seal the deal. Imagine losing at home to San Jose?

New Jersey (3-1-0): Much like the ‘Canes, all three New Jersey wins this week (PIT, VGK, DAL) came in overtime. They also lost 6-4 to Nashville. The good teams find ways to pull games out as victories this time of year, even if it’s close. That’s the theme of the top two teams in the Metropolitan this week.

NY Rangers (2-0-1): It was a strong week on the ice for the Rangers, who needed it after an only OK start to 2023. They lost in OT to Toronto, but handled business against Florida and Vegas. Filip Chytil did his best Mario Lemieux impression, scoring a goal directly off a faceoff this week. Chytil is heating up — he scored four goals this week, and has 8G+4A in 12 games so far in 2023. It feels like the Rangers have been waiting forever for a young skater to finally step up and take a star turn (well, a young player not named Adam Fox, anyways) and it looks like Chytil might be the guy to do it.

Washington (1-1-0): The Capitals stabilized with a home shootout win against the Penguins on Thursday. Coming into the game losing five of their previous seven, it was an extremely critical game for them to avoid losing both of their home games to Pittsburgh this season. They were able to do so, but as we’ll see below, still have a tenuous situation as far as holding onto their current playoff positioning.

Pittsburgh (1-1-2): The Penguins’ week hit a real sour note with one of the worst performances of the season against San Jose last night. One note I keep going back to was a statistic I used in a piece written on Friday. Tristan Jarry has a 16-5-5 record that is a full-season pace of 117 points. The other goalies (and by that, it means Casey DeSmith with only a little bit of a 1-1 Dustin Tokarski) are 8-11-4, a 73 point pace. How many more points would the Pens have earned this week if Jarry was 100%? Vitek Vanecek had their number in a 2-1 loss New Jersey, so Jarry playing doesn’t help the offense score goals. But do the Pens find a way to beat the Capitals and Sharks? I’d have to think so, certainly in the latter case.

NY Islanders (2-2-0): After losing their first two games of the week, the Islanders found a way to gut out 2-0 and 2-1 (OT) wins over Detroit and Vegas on Friday and Saturday night, respectively. Not pretty, but it was badly needed after some rumors about the coaching situation have popped up as NYI have fallen away over the last four to six weeks. Quality goaltending is not an issue on the Island, with Ilya Sorokin and Semyon Varlamov almost always giving them a chance.

Philadelphia (1-1-2): Thursday’s 3-2 OT loss by the Flyers to the Minnesota Wild was one of the more entertaining games of the season. It featured a little of everything, with an old school style night with four fights. Philadelphia goes into the break with a 4-0 win over Winnipeg and keeps playing just a little too good to have much of a shot for a great draft pick.

Columbus (1-2-1): Credit to CBJ for breaking a two-week 1-3-0 streak with a...1-2-1 record this week instead. The Jackets were on the road on that tough CGY-EDM-VAN-SEA road swing that, in fairness, gives plenty of Eastern teams trouble to play those four games in six days with the travel involved.

Playoff projections

Among the more dire outcries for the Penguins right now are the ones that insist the team is doomed or not going to make the playoffs. This is not the case, at least not yet anyways. Pittsburgh has a solid points% and a very good chance of making the playoffs. (Doing anything once get there, especially since they’re likely to see a division winner, that remains a different topic). Here’s some modeling that might calm the nerves.

Buffalo, while on an up-shoot recently, isn’t seen yet by many models as a legitimate threat due to overall team strength. That could prove to be incorrect if the Sabres keep growing and winning. The good news for the Pens is that the Panthers and Islanders are having extremely disappointing seasons relative to pre-season expectations, and neither are likely to change all that much.

As long as the Islanders remain inconsistent, the Pens simply need to stay above at least one of Washington and Buffalo in the standings and the path to the playoff is set.

And, hey, Pittsburgh and NYR play three times in a week in March. Win all three of those games and suddenly the trajectory of the season changes quite a bit. There are still very important stretches and real opportunities left.

This outlook is prior to yesterday’s games, so adjust with a slight down tick for the Penguins and a boost for NYI.

Overall, an important takeaway and maybe a good way to think about this is that Pittsburgh needs 93 points to make the playoffs in this model. That means picking up 36 points in their last 33 remaining games of the season. That means simply going 18-15 (or the equivalent with OT losses chucked in there, like 17-14-2 or 16-13-4) would do the trick. For a little breathing room, it would help to do a little better than that, but that frames up what the Pens need to do moving forward. Shouldn’t be extremely daunting, but they will need to play good hockey down the stretch.

The Athletic:

The Penguins went two weeks between regulation losses, which is a good way to keep the season on course for a high finish. It can’t be said how damaging last night’s loss was, The Athletic’s model had Pittsburgh tracking for over 100 points yesterday. It’s down to 98.7 today. That sounds like a minor swing, but watching points slip away is a tough proposition.