Gameday 67: Le calme avant la tempête

Don’t look now, but the Pittsburgh Penguins are on a little bit of a roll here. Since February 25, they have accumulated the most points in the League, sitting just behind the Minnesota Wild in winning percentage, and as of this writing they have a little more breathing room on the New York Islanders for the first Wild Card spot in the Eastern Conference. They have managed to do so over the past nine games with a fair bit of drama, playing five games into overtime and winning four of those. On the other hand, their three regulation wins have been pretty comfortable with two-plus goal differentials. All of this to say that they’re looking better of late, and they are pulling themselves closer to the New York Rangers and third place in the Metropolitan Division. More to the point, they are looking less likely to be facing the Boston Bruins in the first round, and that’s good news.

The final home game in this five-game homestand has the Penguins facing another team featuring blue, white, and red (sorry, bleu, blanc, et rouge) and another team Pittsburgh has yet to beat in two out of three matches this season, the Montreal Canadiens. Unlike with the Islanders, against whom the Penguins also went winless this season, the Canadiens are very definitely not a playoff team this year, in last place in the Atlantic Division and sitting eleven points behind the Detroit Red Wings. That said, Montreal is the closest to a playoff spot of the four last place teams, so it’s not hugely embarrassing for Pittsburgh to have not beaten them at this point. Also, the Penguins did get the loser point in both overtime losses against the Canadiens, so that’s not so bad either. But a win would cap off this five-game stretch with a .900 points percentage and lead Pittsburgh into the two big games on Thursday and Saturday in Manhattan.

I’m curious to see what will come of the current line pairings in the coming weeks, particularly the middle-six. The absence of Nick Bonino and Ryan Poehling has given Alex Nylander a golden opportunity to succeed, on the same line as Evgeni Malkin and Jason Zucker, and so far the trio has done pretty well, although his linemates are doing most of the heavy lifting on that front. More importantly though the third line looks more interesting with the trio of Mikael Granlund, Rickard Rakell, and Drew O’Connor. They have been deployed in a more defensive nature, starting just three of their seventeen shifts together in the offensive zone, and so far the results have been a little more even on the shot metrics but they have yet to allow a goal against while notching a goal of their own. It’s a small sample size, and depending on what the team does with Nylander once Bonino and/or Poehling are back, but I think they might have something there.