At times over the past few years, it was clear that the Pens stood apart from the pack, at least in the regular season. The Pens were the best team, or very close to it. Everyone else wanted to be what the Pens were. That's not the case at the moment, even as the Pens sit atop their division. The Pens sit squarely within a group of maybe 8-12 teams that are legitimate Cup contenders. But while the Pens are in that group, make no mistake: the Pens are not at the top of it.
The Pens have played 7 games against teams .500 or better, and their record is 3-4. The Pens beat Tampa, Vancouver, and Boston, though the Pens were thoroughly outplayed by the Canucks and the Bruins game was basically a coin flip. The Pens lost to Colorado, Toronto, New York Rangers, and St. Louis, though the Pens thoroughly outplayed Colorado. If you look at these seven games as if they were a 7 game series, it's a pretty good barometer of what the Pens are -- a good team that probably goes 6 or 7 games in a playoff series against another good team. And not necessarily as the favorite.
(If you want to take an even more pessimistic view, don't forget the gag at the end of the loss to an underachieving Islanders team).
Other than the three wins over good teams, the Pens' other 8 wins are against New Jersey, Buffalo, Carolina (x2), Edmonton, Philly, and Columbus (x2). Don't take these wins for granted -- it matters that you can win games you're supposed to win -- but if you want to predict how the Pens will do in the playoffs, it's ok to mostly ignore them.
The Pens' next three games are Philly, Nashville, and Jersey, but after that the road gets a lot tougher: Anaheim, Washington, Islanders, Montreal, Boston, Toronto, Tampa. Look at that 7-game stretch as its own 7-game series and then we'll see where we're at.
A few thoughts on last night's loss to St. Louis:
- The horse we've beaten to death is now completely decomposed, but we're going to shovel more dirt on it any way: Kris Letang's decision-making can be abominable. The guy is clearly not 100% physically, so we'll cut him some slack in the skating department, but the problem is that he's never been close to 100% mentally. He had a ludicrous offensive-zone pinch last night that lead to a 2-on-1 for St. Louis (Fleury bailed the Pens out of that one) and then a truly bizarre attempt to step up at his own blue line, which resulted in a guy basically standing wide open in front of Fleury while Letang caught a whole bunch of air. He also has the emotional stability of Jonathan Martin at the roast of Jonathan Martin. The guy is a $7 million player with a target on his back ... and every time the other team targets him he has a borderline meltdown. This is a problem that hasn't gone away, and doesn't appear to be going away any time soon. And the problem isn't that he is making mistakes, it's that he makes them over and over again and probably doesn't even realize that they're mistakes. He probably took the game tape home to his wife last night and was like, "honey, check out this sick pinch."
- The Pensblog lays out Letang's errors last night in greater detail. Bottom line: Letang is either impervious to coaching, or he isn't being coached properly.
- Crosby had a strong first period, then completely lost his hands for the next two periods. He never misses that deflection that he rung off the pipe late in the 3rd. And he compounded it with a terrible hooking penalty.
|In previous seasons, Crosby gets hit in the face with a puck here. So that's encouraging.|
- Speaking of the Corsis, Brandon Sutter continues to be a huge drag on the whole team.
- Missed James Neal.
- Blues routinely stepped in between the 80-foot stretch passes the Pens were attempting. And continued to attempt. And continued. And continued. And continued.
- Another solid effort from Fleury.