As I looked over the NHL standing this morning I started to wonder what the odds were that the Penguins could catch the Rangers to win the Atlantic Division. They are behind by 10 points with roughly 25 games to go in the regular season and still have 3 to play against the Rangers. It seems like it could be possible with how the team has played over the last few weeks, so I said to myself, “ They can do it. They just have to get everyone healthy”. That’s the moment that I realized that this team has yet to be at full strength this season. Not once have they taken the ice with all their firepower in tact. When you think about it, that’s pretty scary considering they are still one of the most feared teams in the NHL.
As I continued with my morning routine, I kept thinking about what it would be like to have the entire team healthy again. To see the Malkin, Crosby and Staal lines overwhelm the opposition with a constant wave of pressure. I can’t help but to grin when I think about it. To be honest, I have never had so much confidence that any of the Pittsburgh teams were the best in their respective league until I saw this team, and while they have been ravaged by the injury bug, I still think when this team is healthy they would have to be the odds on favorites for the Cup.
But they have to get healthy first.
That is why I’d almost rather see the Pens keep their players rested and have anyone with bumps or bruises get some games off as they come down the stretch. While it would be great to battle for that number 1 or 2 seed, I think the ultimate goal here is to win the Stanley Cup and in order for the Pens to make a good run at it, they will need their full arsenal at 100%. And that includes Sidney Crosby. This is about as healthy as we have seen the team all season right now with Staal back in the lineup and Park getting ready to return, and the added experience the young reserves have gotten in the absence of the regular starters will prove valuable as time moves on. It really feels like the Penguins are getting primed to make a push down the stretch.
But my real question is, is seeding really that important? Should the coaching staff encourage contributions from banged up players in order to make that push? I don’t believe that to be necessary. Home ice is always nice in the playoffs, but it also doesn’t always translate into wins. I really feel like this team going into the playoffs at 100% is more important than anything else. Granted, the Pens will want to stay out of the 7 and 8 seed to avoid playing in Boston or New York, but anything above that and I would take a healthy Penguins team over their opposition in the first round. Whether it is the Flyers, Devils, Capitals, or Panthers, I think a healthy Pittsburgh squad holds the edge in both playoff experience and skill.
It will be interesting to see how things play out from here. The next week or two will determine a lot towards seeding as the Penguins will clash with their division rivals. Scratching off a few wins against them could apply some extra pressure to the Rangers and Flyers, so be sure to keep an eye out to see if the Penguins can make a charge. The Flyers and Sabres are up next in a back to back weekend situation on the road with the Rangers to follow Tuesday night in Pittsburgh. Things could get interesting by the end of next week if all goes well for the Pens.