The last seven games are huge for the Penguins, and here’s why

Pittsburgh has no shot at the top seed, but Dave Lozo breaks down why finishing second in the Metro is so important.

NHL: Florida Panthers at Pittsburgh Penguins
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The Presidents’ Trophy isn’t happening.

Three straight losses have the Penguins five points back of the Capitals for the NHL’s best record with each team having seven games remaining heading into Wednesday night.

This is fine. The last team to win the Stanley Cup with the best regular season record (in a non-lockout season) was the Red Wings in 2008. The Presidents’ Trophy is the only thing more meaningless than the NHL’s regular season.

Getting ahead of Columbus for second place in the Metro? That’s actually important.

NHL: Florida Panthers at Pittsburgh Penguins
Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

The Penguins are two points back of the Blue Jackets and have a showdown at the Paint Can on April 2. That game could very well decide if the Penguins open the playoffs at home, where they are 29-5-4, or on the road, where they are an abysmal 17-13-7. All that matters is getting back Kris Letang, who has been out since Feb. 21 with not a concussion (call me skeptical, since the Penguins never specified the injury) and grabbing home ice in the first round.

What are some other races involving Penguins?

  • The scoring title — Connor McDavid of the Oilers has an 89-82 lead on Sidney Crosby, so that’s over unless Crosby goes wild over the last seven games.
  • The Calder Trophy — Matt Murray deserves to be a finalist but that’s down to Auston Matthews and Patrik Laine. Murray picked the wrong year to be a rookie.
  • The Norris Trophy — At least Justin Schultz won your heart.
  • The Race To Have More Points Than Chris Kunitz — Matt Cullen has 28, one fewer than Kunitz. If this is Cullen’s last season, you’d hate to see him go out like that.

It should be an exciting final seven games. That’s a sentence you’d prefer describe the Stanley Cup Final, but we’re almost there.

Masterton of his domain

NHL: Pittsburgh Penguins at Minnesota Wild
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This is, in all likelihood, Marc-Andre Fleury’s final season in Pittsburgh, as the team will almost definitely buy out his contract after the season if they can’t move him in a trade. Fleury has been the classic good soldier since losing his starting goaltending job last season, and that was part of the reason why he was the Penguins’ nominee for the Masterton Trophy.

The award is for perseverance, sportsmanship and dedication to hockey.

“In my head, I have always been taught that we’re a team,” he said about the nomination by the Pittsburgh PHWA chapter. “You win as a team, you lose as a team. It doesn’t matter what your role is, you have got to be a good teammate and try to help each other to be successful. I like to play. I love it. I have a lot of fun. If I’m not, I try to cheer the guys on.”

To his credit, Fleury has gotten it together since the All-Star break, posting a .934 save percentage in nine games. If he continues to play like that, maybe he will be doing more than backing up when the playoffs begin.

Player of the Week

Matt Cullen

Matt Cullen

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A winless week doesn’t foster much in terms of good news. But how about the aforementioned Cullen? He had two goals and an assist in those three games, which is like Crosby having nine points, so that’s pretty great. But it also explains why the Penguins have dropped three in a row, as Cullen should never be your best player over a three-game stretch.

Player of the Weak

Justin Schultz

Justin Schultz

Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

On the flip side, this could go to a half-dozen people, but let’s give it to Schultz. He had zero points and while plus/minus is a dumb stat, his minus-5 for the week reflects his 55-32 deficit in on-ice Fenwick he posted over the past three games. He can certainly be afforded a bad week after his great season, but Schultz and the Penguins need to get it together ASAP with a brutal first-round matchup awaiting.

Speaking of that…

One Question

Well, Lobster Booty, and I know I’ve been hammering this point of late, but if Letang isn’t around when the playoffs start, it doesn’t matter when the Penguins face the Capitals. Or the Blue Jackets, who I still don’t think are all that great. No Letang means the Capitals are winning that series against the Penguins in any round.

Evgeni Malkin has missed seven straight games, but that’s practically a yearly occurrence, and he always comes back fine. This Letang mystery injury is still very weird. Olli Maatta remains out and could be rusty when he returns for the playoffs. Ron Hainsey has been out.

Did changing the name of the arena curse the Penguins? No one can say for sure. But getting the banged-up, out-of-synch Penguins in round one, if the Blue Jackets finish first, isn’t the worst thing for the Caps.

Since you’re a Caps fan, I’ll answer this from your perspective. Worry about not losing against Toronto or Boston or Tampa Bay or the Islanders in the first round after winning the Presidents’ Trophy.

Then worry about losing to the completely healthy Penguins in the next round.