On Wednesday the Pittsburgh Penguins punched their ticket to their fifteenth straight postseason with a 5-4 overtime win over the Washington Capitals. It may have flown under the radar but Jake Guentzel was the only member of the top line to factor into the scoring, while offense came from guys like Colton Sceviour (two assists), Zach Aston-Reese and Freddy Gaudreau. Even though Evgeni Malkin’s return is imminent (and Brandon Tanev’s is around the corner), it’s good to see there’s still some offense to be provided by the bottom six forwards. Strangely only one defenseman scored any points for Pittsburgh, and that was a lone assist from John Marino, although it was the primary assist on Guentzel’s game-winning goal.
The Capitals meanwhile also clinched their spot in the playoffs by virtue of the point for making to overtime, and it will be their seventh straight postseason appearance and their thirteenth in fourteen seasons (2013-14 being the outlier). By virtue of having more regulation wins than the Penguins, although the two teams are in a virtual tie with 69 points, Washington is currently in first place. A win for Pittsburgh tonight would push the Penguins ahead in points (to 71) but it would also tie Pittsburgh with Washington at twenty-six regulation wins. The Capitals will still have five more games to play compared to Pittsburgh’s four, but while Washington will have two games against a desperate New York Rangers team starting Monday, then the out-of-it Philadelphia Flyers before shipping up to Boston for their final regular season game against the Bruins, Pittsburgh can take it relatively (but not entirely) easy with two games against the Flyers and will finish the season off at home against the Buffalo Sabres.
Looking at the big picture, there’s still much to sort out in terms of seeding for the first two rounds of the playoffs as well as the last two. In case you needed refreshing, the first two rounds of the playoffs will be strictly interdivisional, with the #1 and #4 seeds facing off against each other while the #2 and #3 seeds play each other, and then the winners of those series will move on to the division finals. Then the four division winners will be seeded by regular season record and again the #1 and #4 teams and the #2 and #3 teams will play each other in the Stanley Cup Semifinals (not an official name). As things stand as of this writing, the East and North Division leaders are tied for the fewest points amongst the four division leaders, but of course things can change between now and the beginning of the playoffs, and even during the playoffs as there are always upsets. Nevertheless, if home-ice advantage is important for the Pittsburgh Penguins, they have to do their best to secure as many points as possible. Right now the Penguins do have a four-point cushion on the New York Islanders (playing the Rangers at home tonight) and that is a healthy cushion at this point in the season with so few games left and none between the two teams.
By the way, quick question:
Who would you rather have on the Penguins roster right now?
- Marcus Pettersson (87%, 13 Votes)
- Daniel Sprong (13%, 2 Votes)
Total Voters: 15
Sprong is having a career year in his first year with the Capitals, and is only under contract at $725k/year, and will be an arbitration-ineligible restricted free agent in two years. Compare that to Pettersson’s $4,025,125/year contract that goes on for another four years, not to mention that Sprong’s productivity and way lower salary would be palatable compared to the $5.5m Jason Zucker makes doing whatever it is he does on the third line, and you might say that Sprong would be the better value. I guess you’d have to have faith that Juuso Riikola would have been an adequate pairmate for Marino. But if you look at the advanced numbers, Pettersson is the more productive of the two at both ends of the ice. Sprong is a high-event player, whereas Pettersson is decidedly low-event, and is a benefit to the team for that exact reason. He may be overpaid (thanks again Jim Rutherford) but as a third-pairing defenseman, he is consistent and he does his job. Sprong is playing with house money until Alex Ovechkin returns and slaps Sprong back into the bottom-six.
Today, May 1, is May Day, the traditional holiday in Europe in recognition of the arrival of spring. In the late 1800s, Marxists protested to have it also recognized as International Workers’ Day (effectively equivalent to Labor Day in the United States), which is a particularly important holiday in Russia. So, it would make total sense for Evgeni Malkin to get back to work on a day when many people celebrate workers.