It is official. After a 7-4 win over the New Jersey Devils, and a Columbus loss to Winnipeg on Thursday, Pittsburgh has locked home ice for the first round of the 2017 Stanley Cup Playoffs.
On the final two games of the 2016-2017 season the Pens look to solidify their lines to begin the playoffs. Not looking too far ahead though, the season isn’t over until that final buzzer rings. Looking to repeat the Stanley Cup is not easy, in fact it has not been done since the ’97-98 Detroit Red Wings. It is not easily done, and a lot of the time it’s pure luck.
First things first, as I said it’s not over yet. Saturday the Penguins faceoff with the Auston Matthews clan, who with 2 points will lock the 2nd wild card in the Eastern Conference.
The trio of Auston Matthews, Mitch Marner, and William Nylander each have hit the 60 point plateau. This group of guys, well, they’re hungry. They want to make a difference in the Maple Leafs franchise. Within the next 5 years, I think Toronto will see a Stanley Cup victory. Auston Matthews having a great season has posted 39 G, 42 A for 67 points. This kid means business.
Pittsburgh riddled with injuries are heading into the playoffs without right D Kris Letang. Letang who will undergo surgery for a herniated disc, is not only expected to miss playoffs, but will miss the beginning of the 2017-2018 season as well. Not good for the Penguins defense, but general manager Jim Rutherford has made a great impact on the defensive depth over the past 2 seasons. Last year picking up Trevor Daley and Justin Schultz, this season Mark Streit and Ron Hainsey.
Daley will be playing his 2nd game back when the Pens faceoff with the leafs on Saturday. Thursday, his first game back was already starting to eat up minutes his TOI was 20:48. It’s safe to say with Dales returning, and Schultz having the best season of his career they WILL pick up the slack from a Letang-less team.
Lastly I want to mention, with Evgeni Malkin “making progress” it is a question if he will return to get his legs for the final 2 regular season games, and will he be ready for at least game 1 of the playoffs? My opinion stands. If Malkin is ready to play Saturday, sit him. Play him Sunday against the New York Rangers.
Then, you have to wonder with all of the injuries, and not wanting to wear Sidney Crosby out, who do you rest? You rest Crosby if Malkin can play, rest Schultz, and maybe consider shaking up lines. Phil Kessel struggling to snag goals right now is not a problem, he is a natural goal scorer, and the beast has yet to wake up. Chris Kunitz was reportedly seen on crutches (not clear on injury, or how legitimate) so who knows when we’ll see him again. So in place of Kunitz, play Josh Archibald or Bryan Rust with Malkin.
As the ending nears there’s a lot of different things going to unfold in the days leading up to playoffs. As of right now, just get through the Leafs and worry about this game-by-game.
Toronto Maple Leafs: 39-26-15
Pittsburgh Penguins: 50-19-11