For Penguins, playoff picture brightens as regular season winds down
When a Pittsburgh Penguins player takes a gaze at the NHL standings with 10 days left in the regular season, he has two choices.
He can look up, or he can look down.
Looking up means pondering the possibility of a Metropolitan Division championship. Mathematically speaking, there’s about a 1 in 5 chance the Penguins could catch the first-place Washington Capitals.
Looking down means considering a fall into one of the two wild-card spots in the Eastern Conference or failing to make the playoffs. There’s about a 1 in 7 chance of one of those things happening.
Which direction he looks probably says more about a player’s personality than it does about anything hockey related. Is he an optimist or a pessimist?
So which direction do you look, Sidney Crosby?
“Up. For sure,” Crosby said. “Especially where we’re at, you don’t want to be comfortable or try to hover and just get by. You gotta think about where you want to get to.”
The fact that looking up is even an option is a testament to the Penguins’ late-season surge. As recently as March 1, they were fifth in the division and ninth in the conference, on the outside of the playoff picture looking in.
“It’s been a crazy, up-and-down year,” winger Jake Guentzel said. “We’re right there right now. A couple key matchups coming up around the division this week, and we have to take care of our own business.”
Here’s a look at those key matchups as well as other factors that could determine where the Penguins end up when the regular season concludes a week from Saturday. Mathematical probabilities are from moneypuck.com.
Position: First, Metropolitan Division
Record since trade deadline: 10-3-1
Games left (5): at Carolina, at Tampa Bay, at Florida, Montreal, Islanders
Probability the Penguins finish in this spot: 19.8 percent
Three road games followed by two matchups against desperate teams make this a potentially rocky road, but the defending champs remain odds-on favorites to win the division.
Position: Second, Metropolitan Division
Record since trade deadline: 10-2-3
Games left (5): Nashville, Carolina, at Detroit, Detroit, Rangers
Probability the Penguins finish in this spot: 36.4 percent
Because they close the season with three games against bottom-feeders, the Penguins are more likely to rise than fall from their current spot.
New York Islanders
Position: Third, Metropolitan Division
Record since trade deadline: 8-7-0
Games left (5): at Winnipeg, Buffalo, Toronto, at Florida, at Washington
Probability the Penguins finish in this spot: 27.9 percent
The Islanders have been shut out in three of their past five games, and Valtteri Filppula and Andrew Ladd are hurt. The ship is listing more than a little bit.
Position: First wild card, Eastern Conference
Record since trade deadline: 9-4-1
Games left (6): Washington, Philadelphia, at Pittsburgh, at Toronto, New Jersey, at Philadelphia
Probability the Penguins finish in this spot: 12.6 percent
Matchups Thursday against Washington and Sunday at the Penguins will go a long way toward deciding if Carolina can move out of the wild-card neighborhood.
Position: Second wild card, Eastern Conference
Record since trade deadline: 8-6-1
Games left (5): at Columbus, at Winnipeg, Tampa Bay, at Washington, Toronto
Probability the Penguins finish in this spot: 2.9 percent
The Canadiens have found their game lately, going 4-0-1 in their past five, but their finishing schedule is brutal.
Columbus Blue Jackets
Position: Ninth, Eastern Conference
Record since trade deadline: 7-7-1
Games left (6): Montreal, at Nashville, at Buffalo, Boston, at Rangers, at Ottawa
Probability the Penguins finish in this spot: 0.4 percent
Trade deadline champs have stopped a slide with back-to-back shutout wins. They have an easier schedule than Montreal but can’t afford any further slip-ups.
Jonathan Bombulie is a Tribune-Review assistant sports editor. You can contact Jonathan by email at [email protected] or via Twitter .