It’s time to reset the NHL season. It’s time for a refresher on where the Penguins are and what is ahead. It basically feels like we’ve all been on vacation for two weeks, it’s Sunday, and we’re going back to work tomorrow.
The Pens resume their season Thursday night at home against the Habs. Before you know it, it’s going to be another “March of the Penguins,” and the playoffs will be starting.
THREE IMPORTANT DATES
- Saturday, March 1st - Outdoor game vs. the Blackhawks at Soldier Field.
- Wednesday, March 5th - Trade Deadline.
- Sunday, April 13th - Last day of the regular season.
The Penguins have all but wrapped up the Metro Division, so we will have plenty of time to watch what should be a fun Wild Card race. The Pens and Bruins will probably hash out the number-one seed, and as it stands, it would be the Penguins vs. Red Wings in the first round. That sounds horrifying for whatever reason.
THE RETURN OF TOMAS VOKOUN
The pending return of Vokoun could lead to unlimited outcomes. Does he come back and unseat Zatkoff as the Pens' primary backup goaltender? Zatkoff has a 9-2-1 record this season, but his opponents have been sac. Zatkoff's career stats in the AHL postseason: 3-8, 4.58 GAA, and .865 SV%. Not good.
Vokoun was signed to give the Penguins a security blanket for when Marc-Andre Fleury collapses in the postseason. Last season, Fleury collapsed, Vokoun stepped in, and of all things it was the Pens' offense that disappeared in the ECF against Boston. The reason Vokoun is a Penguin in the first place can't be ignored during any decision-making. We know he isn't in "game shape" at the moment, but he's spent his whole career stopping pucks shot at him. That doesn't go away.
There are so many layers to this, though. Vokoun is 37 and just had a career- and life-threatening injury and surgery. The Penguins will not re-sign him, and it looks like Zatkoff is the backup of the future. Glad we're not making this decision.
As we noted above, the trade deadline is next week. Holy hell. Ray Shero has a ton of things to decide and not a lot of time to do it. Shero went all-in last year and came up broke. No one has any idea of his mind-set heading into this year’s deadline.
With the loss of Kris Letang (for perhaps the rest of the year), and now Paul Martin for a month, the Pens’ D might be in need of some help. It wouldn’t be surprising to see the Pens trade for a depth defenseman or pick one up off the waiver wire. Think along the lines of Philippe Boucher, who won the Cup in ‘09 with the Pens.
On offense, the Pens have a couple of problems. Crosby and Kunitz are carrying the top line, but that won’t last deep into the playoffs. You’re legally insane if you think it will. Would you bet your life savings that Beau Bennett won’t be injured again this year? Would you bet that he all of a sudden becomes a goal scorer?
The lack of scoring from the Pens’ third and fourth lines is a big problem, too. This comes from Shero’s not-so-hot effort at drafting forwards, and it looks like the Pens will have to ride or die with the options currently in the organization: Brandon Sutter, Brian Gibbons, Joe Vitale, Harry Zolnierczyk, Jayson Megna, Craig Adams, Tanner Glass, Chris Conner, Chuck Kobasew, and Taylor Pyatt. There are probably a couple of other players in WBS that are basically the same exact player as these guys who aren’t worth mentioning. Sutter deserves way better.
Speaking of Sutter, don't be surprised if you hear the name Ryan Kesler linked to the Pens, with Brandon Sutter and Simon Despres linked to the Canucks. This would basically say the Pens are content with their bottom two lines, but there’s really not much else they can do.
INSANE MARCH AND THE PLAYOFFS...
11 of 16 games vs. playoff teams. The remaining 5 games are against teams within 4 points of a playoff spot. And that five-game road trip right off the bat will be huge.
And about those playoff teams, here’s how the Penguins have fared thus far against all NHL teams currently in playoff positions:
14-8-2 vs. playoff teams
(10-5-2 vs. Eastern, 4-3-0 vs. Western)
26-7-1 vs. Non-playoff teams
You don't get points for overtime losses in the playoffs, so let's move the Pens record to 14-10 vs. playoff teams. That's not too hot when compared to their record vs. the have-nots, but it's probably best not to look too far into that. The parity at the top is slim. That's why playoff series go 6 and 7 games. The playoffs begin in the middle of April, but we will begin setting our own expectations for the Pens during March. Play will be getting tighter. None of the Pens’ opponents will be taking a night off or phoning it in. It will already be the playoffs. Get ready.