There have been a lot of frustrating things about the 2022-23 Pittsburgh Penguins. The most frustrating of the frustrating has been their ability to throw away points where it looks like a point is a given. Or should be a given.
Even one of those blown third period leads against the Islanders.
The 4-0 lead against Detroit that turned into a loss.
The Montreal game a couple weeks ago.
They win any of those games. Even just one of them. They are in such a better position right now going into this week with even an extra one or two points. They would not only be in the driver’s seat for a playoff spot, but also probably in the driver’s seat for the first Wild Card spot and being able to avoid the Boston Bruins in the first round.
But, they did not win those games.
They gave away points that were there for the taking.
They did that again on Saturday in a game against that Boston team everybody wants to avoid, wasting a strong third period and game that saw them score three goals against the best defensive team in the league by just .... not being able to kill penalties, or not being able to hold a team off after scoring, and not being able to convert on the power play. At the very least, it should have been a point. A point that would have completely changed so much about this upcoming week.
As it stands, the Penguins dropped that point, won an ugly game against Philadelphia, and head into Monday trailing the New York Islanders by one point for the first Wild Card spot and holding a one point lead over the Florida Panthers for the second Wild Card spot.
The Penguins and Panthers have five games remaining, the Islanders have four games remaining.
The Penguins’ best tests over that remaining schedule are going to come on Tuesday and Thursday when they travel to New Jersey to play a Devils team that still has an outside shot at the Metropolitan Division title, and then return home for a game against a really good Minnesota Wild team that is competing for the Central Division title. That Wild team is a LOT better than they are getting credit for being, and they are not going to be an easy foe on home ice.
This is a difficult week.
I have little faith in the Penguins going into New Jersey and winning that game on Tuesday. The Devils are a better team, they are a faster team, and the Penguins have struggled with that level of competition this season. I think they might keep it close. I think they might be in it. But I do not expect a win there.
That puts an awful lot on the Minnesota game.
Because if the Penguins can split those two games, they do get an edge over New York and Florida by closing out their season with Detroit, Chicago, and Columbus. Now, we can not assume anything here because A) the Penguins are 0-2 against Detroit this season, and B) they have lost to their fair share of lottery teams, meaning not even Chicago and Columbus should be looked at as wins.
Still, just for fun suppose that the Penguins take care of business against the three teams they should be able to beat in a playoff race and find a way to split that New Jersey and Minnesota stretch this week. That would see them go 4-1-0 down the stretch and put them at 92 points. For Florida to match that total and also get to 92 points, it would not be able to lose another game in regulation and would have to go AT LEAST 4-0-1 the rest of the way against a schedule that includes Buffalo, Ottawa, at Washington, Toronto, and Carolina. Doable. Possible. But that is a tougher schedule.
If we add in the Penguins fumbling another game along the way, either by losing both games this week or by splitting these games and then losing to one of the lottery teams remaining on the schedule, or any other combination of going 3-2-0 along the way, Florida would need to go at least 3-1-1 against that same schedule to pass the Penguins.
The Islanders aspect of this has them playing Tampa Bay, Philadelphia, Washington, and Montreal as its remaining four games. If they go 3-1-0, which seems like maybe the safest best for them, that puts them at 93 points. A 4-1-0 finish by the Penguins would put them ahead of the Islanders, while a 3-1-1 would tie them at 93 and give the Islanders the tiebreaker.
It is not my intention here to project wins and losses (even though I have spent this entire article doing exactly that) because you just simply do not know and can not count on anything, especially with this team. Am just trying to give you some numbers and hypotheticals on what it will take to get in the playoffs.
If the Pittsburgh Penguins win four of their remaining five games, they probably make the playoffs and have a strong chance to get the first Wild Card spot.
If the Pittsburgh Penguins win three of their remaining five games, it probably becomes a coin flip that they get even the second Wild Card spot and if they do would almost certainly have to begin against the Boston Bruins.
If the Pittsburgh Penguins win two (or fewer) of their remaining five games, they almost certainly miss the playoffs entirely and would absolutely deserve it.
Even though they are probably looking at a short series no matter who they play I would still rather see them make it than not make it. Even if they miss the playoffs they are out of the Connor Bedard derby, and I would rather see if Sidney Crosby or a goalie could get hot for seven games and carry them to an upset win as opposed to hoping they pick 10th or something in the next draft class. So just win some games.