Three Observations Heading Into Game 75 Between the Penguins and Blackhawks

The Pens Nation Gameday Report

By: Casey Johnston (@PensNationCasey)

Playoff Matchup?

Were you paying attention to the Columbus Blue Jackets on Friday?  I hope so, because if the season ended today, that would be your first round matchup.  Anything can happen between now and the end of the season.  There are currently six teams within six points of the two wild cards spots.  Columbus is not a flashy, but they don’t need to be.  They’re a team that scores just enough and prevents just enough goals to win.  They’ve perfected the art of the one-goal game.  Forget about the fact that the Penguins have swept the season series and focus on the fact that the Blue Jackets have the ability to wear the Penguins down in a seven game series.  Even if the Penguins win, which I think they would, they would go into the second round battered and bruised.  That can happen with any team the Penguins meet in the first round.  My point is not to call attention to the uniqueness of the Blue Jackets but rather to caution you not to take them for granted.

Penguins Average

The Penguins are 7-7-3 since coming back from the Olympics.  Whether you want to point to the seemingly endless rash of injuries, the woeful bottom-six forwards, or something else as an excuse, you can’t ignore the fact that the Penguins have been on a downward trend since the end of February.  A team that spent most of the season near the top of most statistical categories is now falling in goals scored, goals against, shots for, and shots against.  Is it possible that the Penguins have been playing better than they are built to play and it’s now starting to show?  It’s no secret that the lower salary cap prevented Ray Shero from building a complete team from top to bottom.  Depth scoring has been a problem from the beginning of the season.  Sidney Crosby’s line has spent the whole season playing against the other team’s toughest competition.  Are the problems that have been present since training camp starting to cost the Penguins games now?

The Blackhawks

The Blackhawks are coming to town as the Penguins attempt to figure out their problems.  As I said about the Kings and the Blues, this is a measuring stick game for the Penguins.  On paper, these two teams are fairly even.  They both come into this game with 99 points.  They’re ranked 10th and 11th in the league in goals against.  They both score more than three goals per game.  Their power plays convert over 20% of their chances.  The last time these two teams met, the Blackhawks embarrassed the Penguins while playing outdoors at Soldier Field.  Indoors may not be any different, but the Penguins have had a month to grow and put that game behind them.  Pay attention to how the Penguins respond to the Blackhawks today because there is plenty to reveal about the Penguins as they approach the playoffs.