In my February Preview, I projected that the Penguins fortunes would be mixed and that they would stay just slightly above 0.500 for the month. I projected a February record of 7-6-1 with the Penguins picking up of 15-of-28 available points (0.536). Boy was I wrong! They completed February with an impressive 8-3-3 record and recorded 19-of-28 possible points (0.679), putting them just 1-point out of the Eastern Conference and Atlantic Division lead. The February surge was largely due to the play of Evgeni Malkin and Ty Conklin, although Petr Sykora, Ryan Malone and Jordan Staal all stepped up their games as well. Although Malkin only scored points in 1 of his last 4 games, he scored 26-points (9G, 17A) in the 14-games during the month of February to take over the NHL scoring lead. Ty Conklin went 6-2-3 in February and his 0.930 save percentage now leads the league. It is now time to look forward to see what the month of March has in store for the Penguins as they head into the final push for the playoffs.
So what lies ahead for the Penguins in March? The Penguins will play 15-games for a possible 30-points. The Penguins will play 7 of the games at home, while 8 will come on the road. Of the 15-games, the Penguins play 8-games against Atlantic Division rivals in March, including the last 6-games of the month. They will face the Devils twice (1-road, 1-home), the Rangers three times (2-road, 1-home), the Islanders twice (1-road, 1-home) and the Flyers once (home). The other 7-games are all against Eastern Conference teams, to include road games against the Senators, Lightning, Panthers and Capitals, and home games against the Thrashers, Sabres and Lightning. They open the month with back-to-back games against the Senators and Thrashers, have back-to-back games against the Islanders and Devils late in the month, and close the month with back-to-back, home-and-home games against the Rangers. Of all the teams they will face, only the Devils (80-points) have more points than the Penguins (79-points) at the outset of March.
As far as the schedule, here is the March layout for the Penguins (36-22-7), 79-points:
- 1 Mar: @ Ottawa Senators (36-23-6) – 78 points
- 2 Mar: Atlanta Thrashers (29-31-5) – 63-points
- 4 Mar: @ Tampa Bay Lightning (25-31-7) – 57 points
- 6 Mar: @ Florida Panthers (28-30-8) – 64 points
- 9 Mar: @ Washington Capitals (30-27-8) – 68 points
- 12 Mar: Buffao Sabres (31-24-9) – 71 points
- 16 Mar: Philadelphia Flyers (32-25-7) – 71 points
- 18 Mar: @ New York Rangers (33-24-8) – 74 points
- 20 Mar: Tampa Bay Lightning (25-31-7) – 57 points
- 22 Mar: New Jersey Devils (37-22-6) – 80 points
- 24 Mar: @ New York Islanders (31-27-7) – 69 points
- 25 Mar: @ New Jersey Devils (37-22-6) – 80 points
- 27 Mar: New York Islanders (31-27-7) – 69 points
- 30 Mar: New York Rangers (33-24-8) – 74 points
- 31 Mar: @ New York Rangers (33-24-8) – 74 points
March starts with a flurry with the first 4-games coming in just 6-days. Also, 4 of the first 5 games come on the road. The schedule gets rough at the end of March with 5-games coming in just 8-nights (2 at home and 3 on the road). Last season, the Penguins had a phenomenal run by going 9-3-1 in February, 12-3-2 in March, and 2-1-0 in April. By comparison, the Penguins are just slightly ahead of last season’s performance through February with 79-points (36-22-7) in 65-games this season (0.608) vs 75-points (33-20-9) in 62-games last season (0.605).
With Marc-Andre Fleury back in the lineup and Sidney Crosby and Marian Hossa both likely to return soon, the Penguins will look to benefit from the infusion of fresh league talent. The big intangible for early March will be what the changeup in lines will ultimately do to team chemistry and timing. With a couple of new players coming into the lineup and learning a new system and new linemates, there is significant potential for some rough edges, especially with opponents playing hard for a playoff spot. To be successful in March, the Penguins will need to find their chemistry and timing quickly, and significantly improve their defensive play over what they have demonstrated in the last several games.
I think that the Penguins will continue their winning ways in March. I am projecting a March record of 9-3-3 with the Penguins picking up of 21 of the 30 available points and hitting 100-points by month’s end. The Penguins will benefit from strong offensive output by Malone, Sykora, Malkin, Crosby, and Hossa, and continued good play in net by Conklin and Fleury. The biggest liability will be in the Penguins defense, which will continue to allow far too many shots on net. The big unknown is whether the Penguins will fare well enough to stake sole claim to the Atlantic Division or the Eastern Conference by month’s end. Only time will tell!
Lets Go Pens!