It’s not every day that the Pittsburgh Penguins, or any team for that matter, will score five goals in a game and still lose. As a matter of fact, the last time it happened to the Penguins during the regular season was February 24, 2018, a 6-5 loss against the Florida Panthers. The difference being that Pittsburgh appeared to be fully healthy that night, while in Saturday’s 7-5 loss against the Boston Bruins the Penguins were without Evgeni Malkin, Kasperi Kapanen, and Teddy Blueger. So, for the team to put five past Jaroslav Halak without many of their more productive players, that’s a pretty good indicator for success if and when the team does get back to full health. Yes, the defense and goaltending melted down, but considering that they’ve been doing quite well over the last several weeks, I don’t think it’s something worth losing much sleep over.
So, on to Manhattan go the Penguins for the last two games of their series against the New York Rangers. Already Pittsburgh has secured the series win as it were, with five wins in the six games the teams have already played, so at this point the Penguins will mostly be looking for the cherry on top as they also try to recover their pace in the race for first in the East Division. With the first-place Washington Capitals four points ahead and the New York Islanders two points ahead, the fact that Pittsburgh and their rivals are now at the same number of games played means the Penguins have some work to do if they want to get ahead of their competition.
For the Rangers, they’re on a somewhat ascendant pace of late, winning seven of their last twelve, as they try to fight their way into a potential playoff spot for themselves. They sit tied with the Philadelphia Flyers and four points behind the fourth-place Boston Bruins, so wins are critical at this point in the season. That being said, their last two games against the Buffalo Sabres went to overtime, including a 3-2 shootout loss on Saturday, which is to say that it’s going to be hard convincing anyone that the Rangers belong in the playoffs to begin with.
In spite of their inability to put away a bad team like the Sabres, it should be noted again that New York is the youngest team in the League. They have one of the League’s best young defensemen in Adam Fox, who at 22 years of age is currently just three goals behind Tampa Bay’s Victor Hedman for the League lead in points amongst defensemen. Their highest-paid player, Artemi Panarin, has missed eleven games this season but is third in the League in points-per-game. Igor Shesterkin has turned into a reliable, quality goaltender for the Rangers as he sits eleventh in the League in goals saved above expected. New York may not be a serious contender for the playoffs right now, but they are building a solid foundation and I would watch out for them in the next few years as the older teams start going downhill.
The revolving door of injuries for the Penguins continues to spin. As it appears Teddy Blueger will be returning to the lineup as soon as tonight, yesterday afternoon head coach Mike Sullivan announced that Brandon Tanev now is week-to-week with an undisclosed injury. Tanev brings a lot of energy not just on the ice but on the bench too, and those qualities are going to be hard to replace without making a move of some sort. (Apropos of nothing, the trade deadline is six days away, and the last day on the regular season schedule is one month from Saturday.) At some point you have to wonder if the Penguins will ever return to full health, and if they’ll be able to maintain the quality of play and chemistry they’ve shown since mid-February. I would hope though that the hockey gods will start to show some mercy, because this shit is brutal.