The Penguins appeared to be sucking dirty pond water when they blew a two-goal third period lead in Vegas, and then scored on themselves in an ignominious loss to Arizona last week. But Pittsburgh pulled the nose up by salvaging a point in the standings with a last minute Evgeni Malkin goal on Friday against Florida and then taking the win in overtime against Montreal to suddenly give them three points in the last two games.
Surveying the East, that’s better than a lot of the Pens’ rivals can say. Philadelphia dropped a fifth straight game on Saturday against Boston and are down their starting goalie for what could be a long, long time. The NY Islanders are 1-2-1 with Patrick Roy as their coach and 1-5-2 in their last eight games overall. Washington is 0-3-1 in their last four games. New Jersey is 2-5-0 in their last seven.
That makes for a lot of teams limping into the bye week and All Star break in the East.
At this point, at the top of the table the Bruins, Panthers, Lightning and Hurricanes have all been impressive in the last week and winning a ton of games. The Rangers got a badly needed “get right” game against Ottawa last night to break a 1-3-1 stretch and maintain their place at the top of the Metropolitan Division.
The Wild Card race is living up to its moniker of being wild. Toronto and Detroit have been hot lately, and as mentioned above the Pens’ last two days have put them ahead in points% over division foes in the Islanders, Devils and Capitals — if only tenuously so.
Up next this week is a whole bunch of nothing. Columbus plays twice, though that doesn’t matter for the playoff chase, but Detroit gets a chance to carry their momentum forward in a game against Ottawa on Wednesday. Otherwise, everyone in the conference has begun their mid-season break to rest and gear up for the stretch run.
As an old team, the Pens can use the break. They’ve played less games than most teams, which means a gauntlet in February and March awaits them. But, compared to most of their most important rivals at this point (PHI, NYI, WSH, NJD), Pittsburgh can at least feel good about their most immediate stretch and be ready to gear up for the future. Third place in the division is right there for the taking at this point for the Pens with the stumbles of everyone else involved.
Given how tough the Atlantic looks with five strong teams (BOS, FLA, TB, TOR, DET), the path to the playoffs for the Penguins right now looks like overtaking and/or staying above all the teams in their division that aren’t the Rangers and Hurricanes. Those teams have now left the door open, but Pittsburgh will have to do their part to skate through it.