Penguins' Sidney Crosby takes glass-half-full view of standings
Sidney Crosby doesn't love the way the Eastern Conference standings look right now.
Because the Penguins have failed to find any consistent success in the first three months of the season, they're locked in a multiteam battle for the last playoff spot or two that will likely drag on until the season's final week in April.
The idea the Penguins will coast into the postseason like they did last year is pretty much out the window. The suggestion they may miss the tournament entirely is not far-fetched.
Still, Crosby finds one kernel of consolation as he looks at the standings, and it's not an insignificant one.
With few exceptions, if any, there isn't a team in the Metropolitan Division that can feel like it's a shoo-in to make the playoffs at this point in the season.
“You've got to find a way to show up and make sure you give yourself a chance to win, and we probably haven't done that consistently. We feel like that's an area we have to improve in,” Crosby said. “You look at the standings, look how tight everything is. I think there's a lot of teams that are still searching for that, too. It's whoever does a better job of it here in the second half. That's the way we have to look at it.”
The cold, hard numbers are a little daunting for the Penguins.
Since the NHL went to its current postseason format in 2014, the final playoff team in the Eastern Conference has averaged 95.5 points for the season.
If the 22-19-3 Penguins want to finish with 96 points, they will have to pick up 49 points in their final 38 games of the season.
That's a lot. They would need a .645 points percentage to get there — a 24-13-1 record, for example — and that's not far off the .677 pace the Penguins set en route to the conference's second-best record last season. It's a far cry from their .534 percentage so far this year.
Looking at those numbers in context, though, makes the task seem a little more forgiving.
The Penguins aren't really in a race to 96 points. They're in a race to finish ahead of Eastern Conference teams that are just as flawed as they are, probably more so.
Unless a team such as Florida or Montreal unexpectedly mounts a rally, the top three teams in the Atlantic Division — Tampa Bay, Boston and Toronto — will make the field while the bottom five will not.
With both wild cards likely going to Metropolitan teams, then, the real goal is to finish in the top five in the division.
Going into Thursday night's games, Washington seemed at least slightly comfortable atop the division, but beyond that, there was plenty of uncertainty.
Columbus was 5-5-2 in its last 10 games, and its goal differential for the season was even. The resurgence in New Jersey has been one of the best stories of the first half of the season, but some regression is to be expected in the second half.
Even if all three of those teams avoid faltering, there still will be two spots up for grabs with a somewhat motley crew of contenders — the Rangers, Islanders, Carolina and Philadelphia — vying with the Penguins to find consistency in their games and grab one.
“It's tough to make the playoffs,” Crosby said. “There are so many things that happen over the course of the year. As long as you're realistic in how you evaluate your game, regardless of whether it's after a win or after a loss, you have that in mind and you just have to continue to get better. We've definitely got room in that area. We've got to do it in the second half.”