Gameday 58 and 59: March? No, Sprint!

Not the ideal ending to February that the Pittsburgh Penguins were looking for, but at least they had a four game winning streak before dropping one they probably should have won in Thursday’s 2-0 loss while visiting the Seattle Kraken. Altogether, it was a quiet eleven-game month for Pittsburgh, and a continuation of their season-long plodding pace with a 5-5-1 record. They still sit seven games behind the Philadelphia Flyers for third place in the Metropolitan Division and eight points behind the Tampa Bay Lightning for the second Wild Card spot in the Eastern Conference.

Now the Penguins enter the pivotal month of March, starting with two games this weekend against a beatable Calgary Flames team and an Edmonton Oilers team that surely is seeking to add by next Friday’s trade deadline. Pittsburgh has two other games before the deadline, against the really-bad Columbus Blue Jackets and the Washington Capitals, and then the final push for the playoffs begins. In total sixteen games in thirty-one days, eight against teams currently in playoff position, and again exactly half at home and half on the road.

Of course we’re watching the trade market to see what’s going to happen, and the next week’s worth of hockey is going to have a lot to do with that, but what happens after the deadline is just as important. Penguins general manager Kyle Dubas has made exactly one (1) trade of consequence since this summer (shipping out Alex Nylander for Emil Bemstrom), and it wouldn’t surprise me at all if that relatively minor trade of two borderline NHL players is the only one that happens for Pittsburgh in the next week. We know that the Penguins are not likely to sell; without being completely hopeless in the playoff race, it makes little sense to move players for futures.

Maybe if things go particularly poorly between now and Friday’s deadline we could see a fire sale, but I don’t think we’d be so lucky to see this Pittsburgh team go so definitively south after spending the whole season in this will-they/won’t-they tumult. At the same time we know they do not have the cap space or enough other assets of value to swing a big buy like some of their peers. Ultimately these Penguins are going to try to make the playoffs, as hopeless as that too may seem, and as a result I really don’t expect them to make a big splash by the deadline.

So the goal now is to spend the next six weeks winning as much as they can and trying to correct their seemingly aimless trajectory by willing themselves into a playoff spot. They are without Jake Guentzel and Bryan Rust for the next week or so, which obviously doesn’t help, but that doesn’t change the fact that they have good players still on their roster. The goaltending has admirably continued to be good enough to keep Pittsburgh in games. All they need is some offensive spark from the guys they haven’t gotten much from this year; basically anyone not named Sidney Crosby has to elevate their games, not just now but for the rest of the year.

The power play needs to continue to improve, but in case you missed it they are 5/22 over the last six games, which is just above average and more around the floor of where we probably expected them to be rather than in the basement. There is room for hope for the Pittsburgh Penguins, they just have to prove they deserve it.