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07 March 2009

A Look Ahead...

Looking at the short schedule ahead to start with tomorrow's big showdown in Washington, the Pens play another big game against Florida, this time at home. Then it is off to Columbus, where the Blue Jackets, like the Pens, are barely holding onto a playoff spot. The next eight games are thankfully played at home for the longest homestand of the season. The three most important games at this time would be against division rivals Philadelphia, who we could still catch in the standings, New York Rangers, who we should pass in the standings, and the New Jersey Devils, our divisional leader and currently the hottest team in the East and arguably the NHL. Hopefully at this point in time the next two games won't be important, but there is a good chance that they will, at Carolina and at Florida. The Pens would then wrap up the season at Tampa Bay, home against the New York Islanders, and at Montreal.
I want to center this writing on the, in my mind, important "key" games. I will start with tomorrow's game against the Washington Capitals. Last week when we played them we were embarrassed. We had no fight. With the revamped and new attitude Penguins, I am hard pressed to say that we will not have that piss poor attitude going into this game. If you remember the January 3rd matchup against the Florida Panthers, a 6-1 loss, and all the fighting and battles that took place at the tail end of that game, and now the revenge game Thursday, where we handled them like it was nothing at all. That is the same situation as we have here. We have been handled by the Capitals three times already this season and enough is enough. The Pens have had it. This is also the only regulation loss by Dan Bylsma this season. I am sure he doesn't want two losses by the same team on his resume yet! The trash talking already started at the end of last week. It is starting to remind me of the Pittsburgh Steelers - Baltimore Ravens rivalry. I love it! Is it to be expected? I mean the location itself should say it all. Next thing you know, the Pirates are winning and beating up on the Orioles. I am so excited for the drop of the puck Sunday.
The next key game happens to be the very next game against that same Florida Panthers that we beat in Miami on Thursday. How exciting is a potential playoff matchup two games in a row. We are forced to combat against a team that knows that we put it to them in the last game and are going to try their hardest to rebound. Remember that we still have another game at Florida yet this season. I think it would be great for the NHL for us to play either of these teams in the first round.
We have a game against the Boston Bruins coming just five days later which is the next key game. It is more of a measuring stick than a rivalry. Although, we could potentially face them in the first round and would need to send a message.
Next two key games come at the end of March and the beginning of April with games versus the New York Rangers and the New Jersey Devils. All divisional games are important here on out because our divisional record could move us in the standings in case of ties. We are playing outstanding right now against our own division at 12-3-5. Considering some of our other divisional records, we got our division in hand.
Next two key games are at Carolina and Florida. Need I remind you that both these teams are within one point of us, so these games should not be taken lightly. They will go a long way for the playoff picture.
Finally, the last game of consequence is the season finale in Montreal, another playoff team. Montreal has been having problems as of late and could potentially be a non-factor 17 games from now. Yes, 17 games is all thats left. We could potentially be the best team going into the playoffs despite our record.
Just figured that I would mention that in the East, there is exactly five point between 10th and 4th place. I know it is incredible to hear. Ok, I am going to break it down nerd style for you. Out of the 17 games remaining, only three remain that are non-conference games. They have a combined winning percentage of .505. That is pretty good and in my humble opinion are the only game we can truly "afford" to lose. The games remaining in the East have a combined wining percentage of .492. That is good for the Pens. Out of the 14 Eastern Conference games, there are five must wins against non-playoff teams, only one of those tema is in our division, although we have had trouble with the Islanders this season, it still is a must win. We also play eight games against teams that are higher than us in the Conference, of those eight games, five of them are within striking distance, practically must wins. Oh, striking distance means outside the top three, which we play all of them once before the end of the season.
If we play the way we have been playing since Coach Bylsma took over, based on the winning percentage as of now, we should go 13-4 through the rest of the season, giving the Pens a record of 47-30-6 and 100 points. This is assuming that out of those 4 losses, none go into overtime or shootout. I figure that throws us into 4th place and a home-ice advantage for the first round and maybe more, pending upsets. I think this is very attainable and going into the playoffs streaking like this would be an incredible boost. Overall the March of the Penguins is well into effect and we are going to march all over the competition. I know that was lame, but I couldn't resist.
Let's Go Pens!


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