Gameday 39: A Big Week Ahead

Is it arrogant of me to think the Buffalo Sabres printed out my Gameday and put it on their bulletin board? Three of the players I mentioned, Alex Tuch, Tage Thompson, and Ukko-Pekka Luukkonen, were instrumental in Buffalo’s 3-1 win over the Pittsburgh Penguins on Saturday. Tuch started the scoring in the first three minutes of the game, with Thompson getting the secondary assist on the goal. Luukkonen meanwhile allowed Pittsburgh just one goal on 41 shots, as the Penguins expected goals in all situations was 3.73 (per Natural Stat Trick), so it wasn’t for a lack of trying in the offensive end that Pittsburgh couldn’t score more. On the other end of the ice, Tristan Jarry allowed three goals on 2.5 expected goals but just 32 shots against. Jarry’s save percentage over his last five starts is .823. At least he finished the game this time!

Although it was just their second loss in regulation since their 7-0 drumming at the hands of the Toronto Maple Leafs, because their peers in the Metropolitan Division have been winning and losing basically in lock-step, the Penguins have been unable to ascend in the Metropolitan Division. Pittsburgh has a critical and challenging week ahead, with four games between tonight and next Monday, all against teams currently in playoff position. If there is a optimistic spin to look for, it could be that the Penguins have fared better against playoff teams thus far this season compared to last, having an 8-6-3 record this season whereas they were 16-23-5 last season. But they are nevertheless out of playoff position themselves, two points behind the New Jersey Devils for the second Wild Card spot in the Eastern Conference, and facing two division rivals above them in the standings in the next three games.

The Philadelphia Flyers have yet to make their characteristic New Year’s swoon, even though they’ve lost six of their last eight games, and they remain third in the Metropolitan Division, three points behind Pittsburgh’s next opponent, the Carolina Hurricanes. After being swept on the annual trip to the Canadian Prairies in the first two weeks of December, the Hurricanes have eight wins in their last thirteen games and loser points in four of the five losses in that span. It’s allowed them to shoot up the standings to second in the Metro Division and five points behind a New York Rangers team that had seemed a couple weeks ago out of reach. Beating both teams would merely put the Penguins on par with the third place Flyers, but at this point Pittsburgh has no choice but to win all the games they can and hope their rivals in the division trip themselves up along the way.