Pittsburgh Penguins’ Lost Weekend Drops Them From Division Favorite Status


Jan 18, 2015; Pittsburgh, PA, USA; Pittsburgh Penguins goalie Marc-Andre Fleury (29) and defenseman Rob Scuderi (4) and New York Rangers right wing Mats Zuccarello (36) react to a goal by Rangers left wing Rick Nash (not pictured) during the second period at the CONSOL Energy Center. The Rangers won 5-2. Mandatory Credit: Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

The Pittsburgh Penguins have been the home team in nine consecutive playoff series, dating back to the 2009 Stanley Cup Final against Detroit.

That streak may be coming to an end this year, as the Penguins probably have about a 50-50 chance to finish in the top two of the Metropolitan Division.

Not only are the Pens (26-12-6, 58 points) five points behind the rising Islanders for the top spot in the Metropolitan, they are just two points up on the Rangers and Capitals, with New York holding a game in hand on Pittsburgh as well.

Pittsburgh had a terrific chance to get a leg up on the two New York squads this weekend, but a pair of ugly regulation losses have put the Pens’ status as division favorites in serious question. After squandering two leads Friday night on Long Island and not looking sharp at all in a home Sunday matinee against the Rangers, Mike Johnston’s team is in a dead heat in the battle for home ice in the first round.

Yes, there are 38 games to go in the regular season, but it’s not a stretch to imagine the Penguins starting the postseason on the road.

But maybe that’s just fine.

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Putting aside the Penguins’ distressing 4-5 record as the home team in their past nine playoff series – including an 0-3 record in Game 7s on familiar ice – all a team has to do is get into the postseason, as long as it can summon its finest form once the tournament begins.

The Pens surely know this, although they will publicly talk about the importance of home ice until it’s no longer possible to acquire it. But the idea of this team cast as the challenger instead of the favorite is quite intriguing.

Like it or not, since winning the Cup this franchise has not handled springtime expectations well. You can say that they’ve lost to the eventual Eastern Conference champion in each of the past two postseasons, but the fact remains that a club with this kind of potential should have made at least one Cup Final since 2009.

This season, with a new coach and several changes to player personnel, the Pens have shown flashes of greatness. However, just as often, they have battled through runs of mediocrity. A great deal of that is due to piles of injuries and illnesses – with Olli Maatta and Pascal Dupuis lost for the season – but a mostly healthy team hasn’t surged as might be expected over the past couple weeks.

Instead, the Pens capped a 4-6-2 stretch with two painful division losses, dropping them to 2-5-2 against the Metro teams currently in playoff position.

It doesn’t look good, but we’re still a long ways from April and it’s doubtful that general manager Jim Rutherford is finished on the trade market.

And even if they have to start the playoffs in their road whites, a change in perspective can be refreshing.

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