Now, as the Pens prepare to host playoff-hungry Phoenix on Tuesday night, they have some reasons to be optimistic about their recent play.
Pittsburgh didn’t go undefeated over the past week, but its previous four games reveal a team controlling the puck more effectively than it had immediately following the Olympic break. After slogging through five of their 10 worst shot-attempt games of the season in the first half of March, the Penguins were essentially even or better in possession stats in each of their four games last week.
(For more of an explanation on how possession stats, click here.)
A simple glance at shots on goal over that stretch reveals a similarly positive trend. The Pens lost to the Red Wings in overtime and to the Blues in regulation – plus they needed extra time to top the Lightning – but the underlying numbers reveal a sounder process over the past seven days.
Pittsburgh’s overall puck-possession trend still doesn’t look promising, but it’s definitely leveled off. We could attribute that to the integration of Lee Stempniak and Marcel Goc, better play from young blueliners Simon Despres and Robert Bortuzzo, or the generally improving health of the roster.
The Pens’ postseason hopes may ultimately ride on the return of Paul Martin (and maybe Kris Letang), but the current group is showing some signs of life as we enter the final three weeks of the regular season.
Tonight’s Game: Penguins (46-20-5, 97 points – 1st Metropolitan) vs. Coyotes (34-26-12, 80 points – 4th Pacific) at Pittsburgh’s Consol Energy Center
Faceoff: 7 p.m. ET
TV: Root Sports Pittsburgh
Radio: 105.9 The X
The Pens have essentially had a playoff spot on lockdown for months, but they can officially clinch their eighth straight postseason berth with a win tonight. That would be the third-longest active streak in the NHL, behind the Red Wings (22) and Sharks (nine, not counting a sure berth this year).
Evgeni Malkin didn’t participate in Tuesday’s morning workout; the Penguins revealed he is out two to three weeks with a foot injury he sustained Sunday against St. Louis. Brandon Sutter took Malkin’s place on the second line during drills, while winger Jayson Megna was recalled from Wilkes-Barre/Scranton of the AHL and skated on the fourth line.
Phoenix is one point ahead of Dallas for the Western Conference’s second and final wild-card spot. The Stars have a game in hand on the Coyotes, adding more urgency to the situation. Furthermore, Phoenix first-string goalie Mike Smith was injured in Monday night’s loss to the Rangers and is out indefinitely.