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Remarkably, Penguins to Play for Tie of Eastern Conference Lead vs. Flyers

Yes, I realize that the Philadelphia Flyers still have a game in hand over the Penguins.

And yes, I realize that if the Penguins and Flyers are tied in points at the end of the regular season, the Flyers would easily win the “no shootout wins” tiebreaker.

But the fact remains that Penguins have a chance to at the very least temporarily tie for the Eastern Conference lead with a regulation win over the Flyers at the Consol Energy Center tonight.

And that, my friends, is pretty damn remarkable.

Every NHL team gets injuries, it’s an unfortunate part of the game.  So it’s not like the Pens are the only team that has had to overcome injuries throughout the season.

But not every NHL team has had to attempt to overcome loss of their franchise player, let alone their top two.

But even if other teams have had to play through those injuries with replacements, whether via farm team or via trade, expectations naturally go down in terms of their chances in the postseason.

The Penguins, though, have erased all of those lower expectations as we get closer to the start of the playoffs.  As a matter of fact, they’ve ramped up their recent play, and it is coinciding with their roster getting healthier.

It all starts between the pipes, with Marc-Andre Fleury, who I’ve criticized several times over the years, having a season that at the very least should be in the discussion for NHL MVP.  His positioning, his technique, and perhaps most importantly, his lack of allowing the soft goal give the Penguins a huge confidence boost.

It then branches out to a defensive corps that has shutdown opponents more times than not.  Their tenacity has frustrated opponents all season long, and that won’t be ending any time soon.

They’re tied for the #1 penalty kill in the league. So while the Penguins, frustratingly, still lead the league in PIM’s and every category within that, their PK has save their collective butt-ocks’ all season long.

And now, it sure as hell looks like we’re getting close to a return of Penguins’ captain Sidney Crosby.

Their resilience in the face of adversity has been fantastic to this point in the season.  And if the Penguins can not only win tonight, but overtake the Flyers and win the Atlantic Division, it will be nothing short of remarkable.

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  Tags: nhl-hockey, pittsburgh+penguins

Comments

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The East is a weak conference.  It’s been a weak conference for 5 years now.  Why should weak, struggling teams winning a weak, struggling conference be anything remotely like a surprise?

The top 8 teams in the East are 69-54-18 against the West.
The top 8 teams in the West are 77-42-19 against the East.

And this is in a year where the West has had three of its teams (Chicago, SJ and Detroit) take a step back in terms of their recent regular season successes.

Besides, this is a capped league.  There’s never going to be any significant spread between teams.

Posted by HockeyinHD on 03/29/11 at 11:35 AM ET

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But, if we’re talking about the Penguins, they’re 11-4-3 against the West, which if you assume that the West is better than the East, you only have to be impressed that a team suffering from as many injuries as the Pens have, can put up that kind of record against the West.

Posted by penguinsfan on 03/29/11 at 11:40 AM ET

Tony's avatar

If it’s been that weak in the past five years, shouldn’t all five Stanley Cup champions be from the West?

Posted by Tony from Virginia Beach, VA on 03/29/11 at 11:41 AM ET

Red Winger's avatar

“Remarkable”? Not really.

It is the Eastern Conference, remember.

We in the West like to call it the AHL on ‘roids. smile

Posted by Red Winger from Sault Ste Marie on 03/29/11 at 11:56 AM ET

Red Winger's avatar

If it’s been that weak in the past five years, shouldn’t all five Stanley Cup champions be from the West?

No, not when you’re allowed to play with six skaters on the ice during the Finals…or players that should have been suspended still play…or the schedule of the Finals totally favors one side.

Posted by Red Winger from Sault Ste Marie on 03/29/11 at 11:58 AM ET

Tony's avatar

Oh for Christ sakes Winger, please learn some new ones, you’re better than that…

Posted by Tony from Virginia Beach, VA on 03/29/11 at 11:59 AM ET

hiero4life's avatar

The Pens are finding ways to win and that’s what matters.  A win=2pts in the west as well as the east.

Posted by hiero4life from anywhere i am on 03/29/11 at 12:07 PM ET

cs6687's avatar

No, not when you’re allowed to play with six skaters on the ice during the Finals

Or blatantly interfere with Crosby in game seven. But championship teams don’t make excuses.

or players that should have been suspended still play

You mean like how Bertuzzi will be playing in Detroit’s next game despite throwing a Cooke-like elbow last night?

or the schedule of the Finals totally favors one side.

Were all seven games in Pittsburgh? I must have missed that.

Yes, the West is better than the East. But does it really matter? Anything can happen in one seven-game series in June.

Posted by cs6687 on 03/29/11 at 12:22 PM ET

cs6687's avatar

The fact that the Penguins are in this position is amazing. Hopefully, they take advantage of it tonight and win in regulation.

Posted by cs6687 on 03/29/11 at 12:23 PM ET

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The fact that the Penguins are in this position is amazing.

Thank you. cs6687, for rescuing this thread from the Western Conference Detroit fans who hijacked it—a constant challenge.

What the Pens are doing is remarkable and it’s time people started acknowledging it for what it is.  And to start putting Dan Bylsma near the top of those “Jack Adams Watch” articles.  I saw one from the other day that had him, I think,  10th?  Huh?  Yeah, let’s put Bylsma behind people like Laviolette, who’s been without Pronger for a while.  Big whup.

Posted by Lex Talionis on 03/29/11 at 12:35 PM ET

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or when you are allowed to close your hand on the puck in the crease?  I guess when you wear #40, they mistake you for a goalie

Posted by lets go pronovost on 03/29/11 at 01:02 PM ET

Evilpens's avatar

Oh for Christ sakes Winger, please learn some new ones, you’re better than that…


No he is Not Tony !!

Posted by Evilpens on 03/29/11 at 01:31 PM ET

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No he is Not Tony !!Posted by Evilpens on 03/29/11 at 11:31 AM ET

Seriously, he’s not at all. You should know better than that Tony. Your knees really buckle around Wings fans.

Posted by NathanBC on 03/29/11 at 01:49 PM ET

Red Winger's avatar

Your knees really buckle around Wings fans.

Yours do, too.

Posted by Red Winger from Sault Ste Marie on 03/29/11 at 02:13 PM ET

Red Winger's avatar

Oh for Christ sakes Winger, please learn some new ones, you’re better than that…

Posted by Tony from Virginia Beach, VA on 03/29/11 at 09:59 AM ET

Are you telling me those examples I provided had no influence on the outcome?

Posted by Red Winger from Sault Ste Marie on 03/29/11 at 02:14 PM ET

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Posted by Red Winger from Sault Ste. Marie on 03/29/11 at 12:13 PM ET

Actually my heart flutters, but nice try.

Posted by NathanBC on 03/29/11 at 02:25 PM ET

Red Winger's avatar

Actually my heart flutters, but nice try.

Posted by NathanBC on 03/29/11 at 12:25 PM ET

Kinda’ get that funny feelin’??

Posted by Red Winger from Sault Ste Marie on 03/29/11 at 02:32 PM ET

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Are you telling me those examples I provided had no influence on the outcome?

Yes. No goal was scored in the 15 seconds of 6 on 5 and the ‘non-suspension’ you’re referring to is only suspendable if the player in question is Nick Boynton and the play occurs in the regular season. See Walker, Scott 2009.

They certainly had less impact on the outcome than the NHL’s decision to allow Draper to waterski on Crosby for 6 games in 2008.

Posted by steviesteve on 03/29/11 at 02:43 PM ET

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First, let me say I enjoyed the blog and am damn impressed with what the Penguins have been able to accomplish since January. No coach in the NHL is getting more out of less right now than Dan Bylsma. If I had an Adams vote, he’d probably receive it.

That being said ...

If it’s been that weak in the past five years, shouldn’t all five Stanley Cup champions be from the West?

To be fair, one seven-game series between only one representative of each conference cannot paint as accurate a picture as 270 total regular-season contests between West and East each year. Simply judging the conferences by who wins in the Finals is not sufficient sampling.

Furthermore, the very very best teams in the East are probably comparable to the best in the West, and success in any given playoff series can depend almost as much upon health, luck, travel and a streaky goaltender as it does on talent or desire. So the Finals are usually a toss-up.

But we’ve have several consecutive regular seasons now in which the Western Conference teams earn a substantially greater share of the 270 interconference victories up for grabs than the East. At the very least, that indicates that the AVERAGE standard of play is notably higher in the Western Conference, and unless the West is playing a significantly greater number of three-point games in intra-conference matchups, it should mean that (generally speaking) it should be harder to accumulate standings points in the West than in the East.

That takes nothing away from the Pens’ gutsy run, or their spectacular record against the West. All it’s saying is that the Penguins probably earned more points through their tough stretch than they would have earned had they been in the West.

Trust me, for a season or two following the lockout when teams played 8 games versus their division and the Central was unquestionably the worst division in the league, the Red Wings benefited tremendously from playing 24 games each year against three of the league’s shoddiest doormats.

Posted by Sven22 from Grand Rapids on 03/29/11 at 02:48 PM ET

Tony's avatar

@Nathan - I don’t have the time nor inclination to constantly get into pissing contests over the same bullshit time and time again.  I guarantee you that if I did, I would no longer be writing here….

I try to treat people with respect, not berate them… If they don’t reciprocate, that’s on them….

You wanna call that buckling of knees, fine.  Don’t read the articles….

Posted by Tony from Virginia Beach, VA on 03/29/11 at 02:58 PM ET

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But we’ve have several consecutive regular seasons now in which the Western Conference teams earn a substantially greater share of the 270 interconference victories up for grabs than the East. At the very least, that indicates that the AVERAGE standard of play is notably higher in the Western Conference, and unless the West is playing a significantly greater number of three-point games in intra-conference matchups, it should mean that (generally speaking) it should be harder to accumulate standings points in the West than in the East.

The long and short of it is the bottom feeders in the West have had smart hockey people doing the drafting, coaching and development. Some of the bottom feeders in the East over the last five years have had the backup goaltender, Don Waddell, Bryan Murray, Len Barrie and ‘E’ from Entourage making organizational decisions.

In some cases (Tampa, Atlanta, Florida) that’s starting to be corrected, in some cases it’s not, but the Western conference hasn’t had a Mickey Mouse hockey operation since Bill Wirtz died, which is why the conference is stronger.

Even with the Coyotes and Preds, who have both had serious revenue issues, they’ve done a good job with drafting, coaching and development.

Posted by steviesteve on 03/29/11 at 05:32 PM ET

Flashtastick56's avatar

their spectacular record against the West.

All it’s saying is that the Penguins probably earned more points through their tough stretch than they would have earned had they been in the West.

Don’t those two things contradict each other?  The Pens have a pretty damn good record against the West…so why would you think they wouldn’t be able to keep the same trend going?

I can’t argue that the West isn’t better than the East…but with the Pens’ record against the West, you can’t argue that they wouldn’t be able to accomplish what they have if they were in the other conference - better or not.

Actually my heart flutters, but nice try.

Posted by NathanBC on 03/29/11 at 12:25 PM ET

Kinda’ get that funny feelin’??

Posted by Red Winger from Sault Ste. Marie on 03/29/11 at 12:32 PM ET

For the most part, I just get headaches.  You’d think I wouldn’t, since just about all of Red Wingers’ comments are so mind-numbingly off-topic, but I do.

They certainly had less impact on the outcome than the NHL’s decision to allow Draper to waterski on Crosby for 6 games in 2008.

Posted by steviesteve on 03/29/11 at 12:43 PM ET

Hahahaha.  What a visual.

Posted by Flashtastick56 from Meriden, CT on 03/29/11 at 08:34 PM ET

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Don’t those two things contradict each other?  The Pens have a pretty damn good record against the West…so why would you think they wouldn’t be able to keep the same trend going?

I can’t argue that the West isn’t better than the East…but with the Pens’ record against the West, you can’t argue that they wouldn’t be able to accomplish what they have if they were in the other conference - better or not.

It’s a question of sample sizes. The Penguins play only 18 games a year against the Western Conference, and they play only three Western teams more than once. That is a small enough sample size that statistical anomalies tend to occur. The Islanders, for example, have earned a very respectable 21 points in 18 games against the West this year, which is better than most Eastern Conference teams. Does that mean the Islanders would be above .500 and challenging for a playoff spot if they played out West? Hardly. Likewise, the Blue Jackets (10-3-2 against the East) would probably not be a playoff team in the East, even though they’ve played the conference at a staggering 120-point pace.

Suffice to say, I don’t think the Pens’ overall pace against the West this season would hold if they they were playing every team 4-6 times instead of one or two times. It’s possible, since this is all just a guessing game, but I doubt it.

Not that I don’t think the Pens would make the playoffs in the West. I think they would. They’d probably just have about 92-93 points now instead of 98. Fair?

Posted by Sven22 from Grand Rapids on 03/29/11 at 08:55 PM ET

Flashtastick56's avatar

Posted by Sven22 from Grand Rapids on 03/29/11 at 06:55 PM ET

Gotcha.

But…if you want a bigger sample size:

2010/11 - 11-4-3
2009/10 - 9-7-2
2008/09 - 10-6-2
2007/08 - 8-1-1
2006/07 - 6-3-1

Granted, it’s not in the same year…but it definitely shows a good amount of success against teams in the West.  44-21-9 record (.595 win%) with at least one point in 72% of their games?  I’ll take it.

Posted by Flashtastick56 from Meriden, CT on 03/29/11 at 10:24 PM ET

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Welcome to The Confluence, a Pittsburgh Penguins blog since 2006.

Originally at Blogspot, then at MVN, TheConfluence has over 1500 articles reporting Penguins news as well as jumping on my soapbox to opine constructive Penguins criticism.

I am blogger- credentialed with the Pittsburgh Penguins.  My posts are regularly linked by hockey websites such as the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, Pittsburgh Tribune Review, Yahoo!‘s Puck Daddy, and I’ve done numerous guest blogger spots on such websites asthe New YorkTimes.  I am a retired U.S. Navy Chief Petty Officer.

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