As the trade deadline looms and teams across the league frantically scramble to get into playoff form, it’s a good time to look ahead and evaluate how the rest of the season is going to look for your team. With 22 games left to go, the Pittsburgh Penguins are more than two-thirds of the way through with their regular season run, but they still have a few hurdles to clear before they get to the playoffs.
The Penguins’ Current Standing
With 22 games left, the Penguins are ranked third in the league and, more importantly, second in their division (behind only the Washington Capitals.) The Penguins don’t play the two teams ranked above them, the Capitals or the Minnesota Wild, for the rest of the season.
In fact, the Penguins only play fellow top-10 teams six more times this season (with matches against the Chicago Blackhawks, Edmonton Oilers, New York Rangers and Columbus Blue Jackets). That means that over 70% of their remaining games are against teams ranked in the bottom two-thirds of the league, with nine of those games being against teams in the bottom third.
Of course, what matters the most is the ranking within the division. The Penguins are part of the Metropolitan Division, one of two divisions within the Eastern Conference. The first three teams from both divisions automatically qualify for a playoff spot, and the next two highest-ranked teams in the conference grab wild-card spots. The top four teams in the Metropolitan Division are tightly packed enough that it wouldn’t be surprising to see the order switch around before the end of the regular season. The Capitals lead with 89 points. The Penguins trail first place by five with 84 points, but the next two teams are each only one point behind one another, with the Blue Jackets at 83 and the Rangers at 82.
Statistics of Playoff Hopefuls
The general target to tell if a team will qualify for the playoffs is 95 points. Statistically, this is a strong indicator; only two teams that have hit this point since the 2005-06 rule changes have failed to make the playoffs.
So if we choose 95 points as the target, the Penguins hover 11 points away with 22 games left to go. That means that they could win just six out of their remaining 22 games (a dismal 27% success rate) and still theoretically clinch a playoff spot. (If they continue at their average success rate of about 67% this season, they will win 14.) So the Penguins just need six wins to get 95 points – a pretty good prospect when you consider that 16 of their upcoming games are against teams in the bottom two-thirds of the rankings. Perhaps most tellingly, exactly 11 of the Penguins’ 22 upcoming games are against teams not in playoff position.
Let’s also take a peek inside the conference again. The Capitals, Penguins and Blue Jackets take the top three spots in the Metropolitan division, with the Rangers claiming the first wild-card spot. The second wild-card spot, however, is held by the Toronto Maple Leafs, who have 69 points on the season. That puts them 13 points behind the Rangers. Because there are 13 points between the two wild card teams, the Penguins are all but guaranteed to, if worst comes to worst during the rest of the regular season, at the very least grab a wild-card spot.
Basically, Playoff Chances Are Good
In summary, the Penguins still have some worries to deal with during the rest of the regular season. They’ve got that trade deadline on March 1 and Marc-Andre Fleury still sitting on the bench. They’ve got a slew of injuries still leaving holes on the roster (get well soon, Conor Sheary.) But statistically, they’re all but guaranteed to make the playoffs.
Julia Stumbaugh is a student at the College of William & Mary.