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What to watch for with 10 games to go

The Stanley Cup Playoffs are probably out of reach, but here are some other things to watch for the rest of this season for the Pittsburgh Penguins.

Detroit Red Wings v Pittsburgh Penguins Photo by Joe Sargent/NHLI via Getty Images

The Pittsburgh Penguins have 10 games remaining in the 2023-24 regular season, and while it would be nice to think they could go on a run and somehow earn a playoff spot that just seems like it is not a very realistic thought. The math just does not work in their favor. The remaining schedule is a grind with games coming mostly against playoff teams and Stanley Cup contenders. They had their chances earlier in the season. They did not take advantage of them. This is the situation and they just have to make the best of it.

So while the playoffs are not really a realistic option, there are still some things we can watch.

Let’s talk about some of them.

Sidney Crosby getting his points

Crosby has averaged at least a point-per-game in each of his first 18 seasons in the NHL and looks to be on track to do it again. If he does, that would tie Wayne Gretzky’s record for most consecutive point-per-game seasons in the NHL.

With his recent hot streak over the past week, he is just four points away from guaranteeing that mark and tying Gretzky.

Sidney Crosby reaching 40 goals

He needs five goals and has 10 games to do it.

I think one of the wildest things about Crosby’s career is that he has only eclipsed the 40-goal mark two times. It is not because he is not a great goal-scorer. He is. It is mostly because injuries and shortened seasons have pretty much robbed him of that opportunity.

The fact he has a chance to reach the 40-goal mark at age 36, as well as the fact his two healthiest seasons have come in his mid-30s, is pretty remarkable and a testament to the conditioning and work he puts in.

In the history of the league there have only been seven 40-goal seasons for players age 36 or older, and only six players have accomplished it. Alex Ovechkin has done it twice, while Brendan Shanahan, Teemu Selanne, Gordie Howe, Phil Esposito, and Johnny Bucyk have each done it one time. Crosby has a chance to join that group.

More Sam Poulin please

I really can not emphasize this enough. The Penguins need to see what Poulin can do and they have to find out something about him. When he got called up earlier this week I said I wanted to see at least 15 minutes per game from him.

Mike Sullivan has obviously had other ideas as Poulin has barely played 15 minutes in the first two games after his call-up.

I understand the Penguins not wanting to give up on the playoffs until they are mathematically eliminated.

But what if playing Poulin is not a give up move?

What if he is actually one of your best bottom-six options at this point? What if playing him more gives you a better chance to win? Have you seen some of the play the Penguins have received from that group this season?

Finding a role for Michael Bunting

I am intrigued by Bunting, mainly because he brings an element and plays a style that the Penguins have lacked ever since the departures of Chris Kunitz and Patric Hornqvist. In all honesty, he is likely to be the most valuable asset the Penguins get as part of the Jake Guentzel trade both now and in the future. I have also mostly liked the way he has played so far with the Penguins.

Given that he is still signed for two more years after this let’s find out where he fits in the lineup.

On a line with Evgeni Malkin (it seems to be the case so far)? On the power play in front of the net? This is the time to experiment and find a spot.

15 goals for Drew O’Connor

I have gone back-and-forth on O’Connor all season, which is fitting because his play has been wildly up-and-down. Sometimes he looks like a sensational depth player, other times he disappears. But the bottom line is he has a very real shot at hitting the 15-goal and 30-point mark for the season. We probably would have signed up for that if it was offered at the start of the season from him.

The goaltending situation

Tristan Jarry had a great start and a brutal second half, continuing a career-long trend that really become an issue. Alex Nedelkjovic has ended up getting the past three starts and is likely to end up having a better season than Jarry, both in terms of winning and individual save percentage.

Does Mike Sullivan keep playing the hot hand over the next 10 games?

What happens if Nedeljkovic keeps winning?

It might not matter this season, but it could lead to a very interesting offseason discussion.