Fans who fear the teams below the Penguins in the standings, namely Philadelphia, probably view Tuesday’s 2-1 shootout win over the New York Islanders as a critical two-point bump in the standings. And they’re not wrong to think that way.
Fans who want the Penguins to catch the teams above them in the standings, namely the Islanders, probably came away a little disappointed that a victory in regulation slipped away. And they’re not wrong, either.
The Penguins are on a win streak of three-plus games for the first time since claiming four in a row from Jan. 21 to Feb. 2. Their possession metrics remain favorable, and neither their shooting nor save percentage appears unsustainably high. They are playing the kind of hockey that should secure them a playoff berth, even without the services of Evgeni Malkin.
Until the Islanders’ Kyle Okposo buried the game-tying goal late in the third period, even the Penguins’ performance in front of their own net looked much improved from what transpired when the teams met in Brooklyn on March 8. Anders Lee still managed to influence the game’s outcome simply by causing mayhem around the crease, but he found fewer opportunities overall. Just look at the hockeystats.ca charts to the right. The Islanders clustered considerably more shot attempts from close range during the last meeting.
“They got some puck luck,” Kris Letang said of Okposo’s goal. “The rebound came out right on the back door. It was one of those goals that’s going to happen.
“They didn’t get as much zone time as they had in Brooklyn, so I didn’t have to deal with (Lee) as much.”
There’s no need to remind the Penguins that every point counts at this juncture in the season. They recall the narrow margin between those teams that qualified for the playoffs and those that fell short a season ago.
“Last year, we were the same way, a little bit,” Marc-Andre Fleury said. “We kind of had a tough ending and battled to make it. … I don’t think it’s a (bad) thing, though. We get used to playing these close games. Tough battles. It’s just good preparation for the playoffs.”
With wins over both New York teams in the span of three days, the Penguins are proving what the advanced stats have suggested for months: They’re good enough to take down anyone in the Metropolitan Division. But if they allow the Rangers and Islanders to come away with points in these next few meetings, the Penguins will likely find themselves paired up with Washington, a team with considerably less vulnerability than the New York teams.