The Division of Death™ continues to be the only thing standing in the way of the Pittsburgh Penguins and home-ice advantage through the playoffs. They went measly 2-1-1 last week, but thanks to the Washington Capitals losing twice after their bye week, the Penguins are just three points back in the Metro after Tuesday’s 3-1 over Carolina, with the Caps holding a game in hand as they face the Flyers on Wednesday.
But who will win this division? Who will be relegated to the Atlantic Division for the first round as a wild card because of the NHL’s dumb format? Let’s look at the big four teams in the Metro as of the end of play Tuesday and figure out who is finishing on top.
Washington Capitals (85 points, 24 games remaining) — Thirteen games are on the road and four are against Arizona, Dallas and Colorado, three teams that should be severely weakened after the trade deadline.
Pittsburgh Penguins (82 points, 23 games remaining) — They also have 13 games away from home to close the season, including five road games from March 8-15. The schedule is much more difficult for the Penguins.
Columbus Blue Jackets (79 points, 24 games remaining) — They have four regulations wins in their past 15 games so they’re fading already after an incredible run last month. But Columbus gets the Devils three times down the stretch, which should be a soft landing. Still, they’re suddenly a long shot to win the division.
New York Rangers (78 points, 23 games remaining) — They have 14 games remaining on the road and only nine at home. Climbing three teams and overcoming seven points is a near impossibility.
While it looks like the Capitals are safe, this is a Pittsburgh-based publication, and I’m saying the Penguins win the Metro and the Eastern Conference, and Mike Sullivan is the most handsome coach in the league.
Prepare for Awkwardness
I usually grab a video or some sort of visual media for this spot but this news about the outdoor game at Heinz Field between the Penguins and Flyers is too funny. It deserves its own spot.
During the second intermission, the NHL will have a ceremony to honor all the Penguins players that were on the league’s top 100 list. The nine players that will be recognized are Sidney Crosby, Mario Lemieux, Jaromir Jagr, Ron Francis, Bryan Trottier, Paul Coffey, Luc Robitaille, Andy Bathgate and Tim Horton.
One player who will not be honored is Evgeni Malkin, who was left off the list for reasons the objective human mind will never comprehend as long as the planet rotates on its axis.
An NHL executive in charge of entertainment — I’m not typing this guy’s insanely long job title — defended the NHL’s list and called it “pretty complete” and “pretty accurate” when it was nowhere close to either of those things.
So when you’re at the game and chanting for Malkin throughout the ceremony — PLEASE DO THIS — don’t forget you can buy a book that has a much better list of 100 players that includes Malkin.
Player of the Week
Let’s give it to Kris Letang. Yeah, Sidney Crosby had three goals and five points in the same span, including his 1000th-career point and is three goals up on the rest of the league through Tuesday’s games, but enough with him already.
Letang had five assists in four games while playing nearly 29 minutes per game. With Olli Maatta out again, and Justin Schultz dealing with a concussion, the Penguins are going to lean on Letang down the stretch the way comedian Jay Mohr leaned on his Christopher Walken impression during the early-2000s.
Player of the Weak
Chris Kunitz. Four games, one goal, zero assists. Everyone wants to know when the Penguins are going to trade Marc-Andre Fleury, but this continues to be the spot the Penguins need to upgrade. Kunitz is playing more than 17 minutes some nights which is way too much for a guy with nine goals.
And please, stop asking about trading Fleury. His contract is too big and the Penguins needs a decent backup in case Murray gets hurt. You will say goodbye to him in the summer and not a minute sooner. I’m glad that’s settled.