In my January Preview, I predicted that the Penguins would have a very strong January, with the potential to go 8-3-2 and pick up 18 of 26 available points on the month. In fact, the Penguins finished the month going 8-3-2 and picked up 18-points. This was the second consecutive monthly preview in which our projection nailed the outcome exactly. It is now time to look forward to see what the month of February has in store for the Penguins.
What I didn’t predict for January was that the Penguins injury woes would mount and that they would lose several more key players. Midway through the month, the number of Penguins players on the injured reserve list grew from 3 to 6 players, as Sidney Crosby (ankle), Tyler Kennedy (mono) and Adam Hall (groin) all were added to the list. While not on the IR list, the Penguins lost the services of Colby Armstrong (Hip/Flu) for several games. Yet, despite the continued adversity, the Penguins still found a way to win 62% of the games in January and picked up 69% of the available points to arrive within a point of both the Atlantic Division lead and 2nd place in the Eastern Conference. Unfortunately, the IR list will continue to be a challenge for the Penguins in the coming month.
So what lies ahead for the Penguins in February? The Penguins will play 14-games for a possible 28-points. Unlike January, the majority of the games (8) will be played at home, with 6 being played on the road. Of the 14-games, the Penguins play just 4-games against Atlantic Division rivals in February when they face off against the Devils on the road, the Flyers at home and 2-games against the Islanders (1 at home, and 1 away). They will play the Carolina Hurricanes and Boston Bruins twice each during the month (1 at home, 1 away). Five games will be played against teams that are currently above them in the Eastern Conference Standings (Senators, Flyers, Hurricanes (x2), and the Canadiens) and 7 will be played against teams that are currently below them (Islanders (x2), Bruins (x2), Sabres, Panthers, Devils). The other 2-games will be played against the Western Conference when they host the West’s #2 San Jose Sharks and the #15 Los Angeles Kings.
As far as the schedule, here is the February layout for the Penguins (28-19-4), 60-points:
2 Feb: Carolina Hurricanes (25-24-4) – 54 points
4 Feb: @ New Jersey Devils (28-19-3) – 59-points
7 Feb: New York Islanders (24-21-6) – 54 points
9 Feb: Los Angeles Kings (20-29-3) – 43 points
10 Feb: Philadelphia Flyers (28-16-5) – 61 points
13 Feb: Boston Bruins (26-19-5) – 57 points
14 Feb: @ Carolina Hurricanes (25-24-4) – 54 points
17 Feb: @ Buffalo Sabres (23-21-6) – 52 points
19 Feb: Florida Panthers (22-25-5) – 49 points
21 Feb: @ Montreal Canadiens (27-15-8) – 62 points
23 Feb: Ottawa Senators (32-15-4) – 68 points
24 Feb: San Jose Sharks (28-16-7) – 63 points
26 Feb: @ New York Islanders (24-21-6) – 54 points
28 Feb: @ Boston Bruins (26-19-5) – 57 points
February starts with 5 of the first 6 games at home. The schedule gets rough towards the end of February with 4-games coming in 6-nights (2 at home and 2 on the road).
Last season, after coming into their own in January by going 8-2-2, the Penguins kept rolling by going 9-3-1 in February, 12-3-2 in March, and 2-1-0 in April. By comparison, the Penguins are ahead of last season’s performance through January with 60-points (28-19-4) in 51-games this season vs 56-points (24-17-8) in 49-games last season. I think it is unlikely that the Penguins will be able to maintain the similar level of success in February this season, given the key injuries to the their line-up. To be successful, the Penguins will need to find offense from the remaining lineup and contributions from their Wilkes-Barre/Scranton call-ups. They may also need to find a quality offensive player via trade to keep the Penguins in the playoff hunt in the extremely tight Eastern Conference until they can get Sidney Crosby and Gary Roberts back in the lineup.
I think that the Penguins fortunes in February will be mixed, but they will stay slightly above 0.500. I am projecting a February record of 7-6-1 with the Penguins picking up of 15 of the 28 available points. This will require consistent offensive output from Malone, Gonchar, Sykora, Malkin, and Staal, and continued good play in net by Conklin. If the Penguins can find ways to win without some of their top players in the lineup, it should bode well come playoff time (assuming the top players can find their way back onto the ice by mid-March).
Lets Go Pens!