Do the Penguins still control their playoff destiny?
Yes. By earning a point, the Penguins reduced their magic number from four to three. That means any combination of the Penguins winning three points and/or the Ottawa Senators losing three points will qualify the Penguins.
The Senators play the New York Rangers on Thursday night. The Penguins host the New York Islanders on Friday night. Both teams play on Saturday, with the Senators in Philadelphia and the Penguins in Buffalo.
Even if the Senators win out, three points puts the Penguins in. That’s important, because the Flyers and Rangers no longer have anything to play for.
Will they still make the playoffs?
According to the fine folks at sportsclubstats.com, who are certainly better at math than I am, the Penguins have a 92.9% chance of making the playoffs, down from 97.9% before losing to the Senators.
I’ll admit that I’m a little bit surprised by how high that number still is, but I’ll take it for what it’s worth. My gut feeling is that they’ll find a way to make the playoffs, but it won’t necessarily be pretty once they get there.
The same computer machinery gives the Penguins just a 1.9% chance of winning the Stanley Cup.
When is Christian Ehrhoff coming back?
Your guess is as good as mine. Here’s the transcript from Mike Johnston’s pregame interview on Tuesday:
Q: Mike, can you update us on Ehrhoff, Letang, Downie?
A: Ehrhoff is skating at home; Letang, as far as I know, has ridden a bike and that’s the extent of it; Downie didn’t skate today. He had a little skate yesterday. He’s got an upper body injury. We kept him off the ice today.
Q: Is there any indication that either Letang or Ehrhoff could be ready for a possible playoff series next week.
A: For sure. There are indications that they could be ready, but they aren’t ready right now. That’s why they’re not here with us on this trip. Ehrhoff is progressing; we like the way he’s progressing right now and we’ll see both guys when we get back to Pittsburgh over the next couple of days.
Q: Could Ehrhoff be available for the weekend?
A: Possibly, but I won’t have any confirmation on that until we get back tomorrow.
So, maybe he’ll be back on Friday. I wouldn’t hold my breath. The Pens have a scheduled day off today, so we won’t know anything more until after practice on Thursday.
Can the Penguins send down Derrick Pouliot and recall another defenseman?
Pouliot was injured when attempting a slap shot at 18:06 of the second period on Tuesday night and did not return to the game. No update on his injury was given post-game.
If Pouliot is injured badly enough to be unable to play on Friday, the Penguins cannot send him down to Wilkes-Barre/Scranton in exchange for another defensemen.
From article 13.6 of the NHL CBA:
“Players may not be loaned until appropriate medical clearance is granted.”
So if Pouliot and Ehrhoff both cannot play on Friday, the Penguins will be forced to play what is nearly a must-win game with only five defensemen.
Can the Pens fire Johnston now?
Surprisingly enough, it’s been done before – twice, in fact – both times by Lou Lamoriello of the New Jersey Devils. In 2000, he fired head coach Robbie Ftorek on March 23 with eight games remaining in the season and replaced him with former L.A. Kings coach Larry Robinson. Robinson went just 4-4 in the regular season, but led the Devils to their second Stanley Cup that June.
Perhaps emboldened by his previous success, Lamoriello struck late in the year again in 2007, firing Claude Julien on April 2 with three game remaining in the regular season. This time Lamoriello took over coaching duties himself and went 2-0-1 over the final three games, securing an Atlantic Division championship. The Devils lost in the second round of the playoffs to the Tampa Bay Lightning.
So sure, they could fire Mike Johnston now, just like they could have last week or last month, but I wouldn’t think it’s very likely. Frankly, I’m not even sure how much of the blame for this team’s failure can be placed at Johnston’s feet.
I’ve been critical of his player usage, but the bottom line is that the Penguins just don’t have enough good players and too many bad ones. I don’t think the ghost of Toe Blake would be leading this group of Penguins to the Stanley Cup. (He’s an old coach. Look him up.)
Photo credit: Gene Puskar/AP