It’s the last day of 2023, here are how the standings are looking as the calendar is about to switch over.
New York Rangers (2-1-0): The Rangers took care of business this week with a pair of 5-1 victories over Washington and then last night against Tampa. In between, they dropped a 4-3 game to Florida, but overall remain in first place and are a fair bit above the mayhem and jockeying that is going on down in the pack.
Carolina (3-0-0): The Hurricanes are starting to make their move. Two weeks ago in the last Sunday Standings they were in fourth place. Carolina has played more games and has a lesser points% than some of their competitors, but have erased the hot starts of some of the surprising “challenger brands” like PHI and WSH who came out the gates hotter than expected. We’re not even halfway through and order is being restored a little with the cream rising to the top.
Philadelphia (1-0-1): The Flyers have mastered the system as of late; five of their previous eight games have gone to OT. That pulls over to the standings, where you might note that Philadelphia has only lost once in regulation in the last 10 games. Overall there are some signs that the Flyers might be running out of gas (just one win and a 1-1-2 record in the last four), but they’re finding ways to keep games close, take them to extra time and get at least a point out of things. That’s a great way to stay in the chase.
New York Islanders (1-1-0): Much like the Flyers, NYI have been the kings of the tight games this season. But this week was a break from that, the Islanders got spanked 7-0 by the Pens, then turned around and took out some frustrations with a blowout win of their own with a 5-1 victory over Washington on Friday. That makes the PIT/NYI rematch tonight all the more intriguing after such a dramatic and decisive outcome in the prior matchup.
Washington (0-2-1): Is the wind coming out of the Capitals’ sails? Washington hasn’t won in regulation since December 10th (they do have three OT/SO wins since then) but absorbed a rough week with a pair of matching 5-1 blowout losses to the Rangers and Islanders. Even worse is that Charlie Lindgren (a major pleasant surprise this season as one of the NHL’s top performing goalies) is injured and could be looking at an extended absence. The Caps found ways to perform and get great results early on, but they will be tested mightily and are trending down and towards the outs from a playoff spot in recent days and weeks.
New Jersey (2-1-0): Unlike the teams immediately above them in the standings, the Devils have not been good at the “get game to OT and find a way to compile points” type of game. But NJ has countered that by winning some games lately, even though their three-game winning streak was ended last night by Boston. NJ hasn’t had the season they have expected, but are still on a 94-point pace right now, even with an uneven defensive and goaltending performance.
Pittsburgh (2-0-0): Like the Devils, the Pens haven’t been OT’ing their way up the ranks this season. They’re going to have to do it the old fashioned way by winning games. Pittsburgh is up to 6-1-1 in the last eight and putting a lot of credit in the bank to be right there if/when some of those teams like NYI/PHI/WSH slip up. Tonight’s game is a huge opportunity — two weeks ago PIT was seven points back of NYI. They could be three back (with a game in hand) if they earn a regulation win tonight.
Columbus (1-0-2): Even the Blue Jackets are getting in on the theme to avoid regulation losses and pick up some points via the OT loss. All three of Columbus’ games when to extra time this week, the majority of them didn’t work out, but hey, they kept pace with the teams above them. Zach Werenski is injured yet again which could lead towards more tough times ahead, but at this point Columbus is trying to figure out how and where to start building.
By straight math, the Pens are on pace for 91.6 points through 34 games, so as you can see this model projecting them for 98 points is a big believer that Pittsburgh is going to go on a long winning streak (or at least a long stretch of mostly wins) in order to bump up to 98 points by the end of the season.
The Penguin have a problem in this model, and that problem is that they are tracking towards a sixth place finish in the division. That makes the margin of error extremely low. Pittsburgh will need a team like NYI or Philadelphia to pull a Washington, whose playoff chances have tanked over the past two weeks. The sooner another Metropolitan team can join WSH on that path, the better for the Pens.