Gameday 68: Smells Like Team [sic] Spirit

I don’t know about you, but I wasn’t expecting the Pittsburgh Penguins to beat the New York Rangers on Saturday, so I’m not very disappointed by the 7-4 result in New York’s favor. The Rangers are just about locked into a playoff spot and are probably going to be one of the top four teams standings-wise at the end of the regular season. The fact that most of Pittsburgh’s main competition in the race for a playoff spot also struggled this weekend (only Carolina and Washington came away lossless) meant the Penguins didn’t lose ground in their pursuit for a playoff spot. Their 6-3 win over the Detroit Red Wings on Sunday helped keep Pittsburgh within five points of the second Wild Card seed in the Eastern Conference. If we’re being optimistic, the Penguins are not dead yet, and so we must continue forward with the dream of a Stanley Cup this season, even if it seems quite improbable.

How their championship dreams could perhaps be less improbable is if Pittsburgh can vault its way past the Wild Card and into third in the Metropolitan Division. The Penguins are seven points behind the Philadelphia Flyers for that spot with a game in hand. Unfortunately Pittsburgh has no other control over their chances to take that big leap past the three teams in their way: the Islanders and Capitals are four points ahead of the Penguins, and while Pittsburgh meets those teams once more each this season, it’s going to take them losing and the Penguins winning for the unlikely to happen. The good news on that front is that none of Pittsburgh’s rivals has confidently solidified their push for the playoffs. The opportunity is there for the Penguins, they just need to keep winning.

Pittsburgh is out on the road for the next few games, starting tonight with a visit to the New Jersey Devils. The Devils have not had a good year and their playoff hopes are slightly more tenuous than their visitors for tonight. Their goaltending in particular has let them down as they have the second-worst team save percentage in the NHL on only three fewer shots against than the Penguins. It doesn’t help that they’ve been dealing with health issues but, like the Ottawa Senators, their young guys haven’t stepped up and produced as much as they’ve needed to be competitive. It all conspired to end Lindy Ruff’s tenure as New Jersey’s head coach two weeks ago, but they haven’t been much better (2-5) under Travis Green. At the last minute they’ve gone out and acquired Jake Allen from Montreal and he’s had two quality starts out of two already, but it might be too little, too late to save their season.