Last March, the Pittsburgh Penguins went 15-0 for the first undefeated month in franchise history. They finished with a record of 36-12 – a remarkable .750 winning percentage – but still nearly got flushed from the playoffs by the inferior New York Islanders.
Two years ago, the Pens allowed four goals or more in five of their last 11 regular-season games. That defensive laxity portended an opening-round disaster against Philadelphia during which they allowed 30(!) goals.
What’s my point? The connection between late-season results and playoff outcomes is shaky at best.
That’s important to keep in mind the Penguins’ Tuesday night “players-only meeting” garners attention and talk radio switchboards light up with indignant hockey fans. Obviously a team would rather be playing well entering the postseason, but it’s not necessary – or even realistic – for a team in Pittsburgh’s situation to be clicking efficiently right now.
The news of Evgeni Malkin‘s foot injury (the Tribune-Review’s Rob Rossi is saying it’s a hairline fracture) all but assured the Penguins will go over 500 man-games lost this season. Moreover, crucial players like defensemen Paul Martin and Kris Letang are still out of the lineup, as is possible top-six winger Beau Bennett.
I wrote yesterday that the Penguins have been possessing the puck better as of late. That positive trend tapered off a bit in Tuesday’s loss to Phoenix, although they were still essentially dead even in total shot attempts despite getting only one power play to the Coyotes’ five.
In short, a one-goal loss isn’t anything to be ashamed about, considering who the Penguins are missing and how desperate the Coyotes are to stay in playoff positioning. If either James Neal or Sidney Crosby buries his late chance and Pittsburgh wins in overtime or a shootout, does the impromptu team powwow even happen? Probably not.
(Beyond that, how funny is it that Rob Scuderi, Brooks Orpik and Craig Adams, all of whom have been various shades of bad this season, were once again very willing to share with the media how much “leadership” they’ve been providing? Just play better, boys.)
So ignore the reports from the dressing room and instead read this from the Trib’s Josh Yohe on Letang, who apparently can return to game action whenever he feels fit. Who would’ve thought Letang could return from a stroke faster than Martin might from a broken hand?
Pittsburgh is 2-4-1 in the past two weeks and 6-6-2 since the Olympic break. That won’t get it done in the postseason, but this isn’t the same team we’ll see in mid-April.
The Penguins don’t need to talk about a supposed lack of “passion.” They need to get healthy in time for the playoffs.