The Pittsburgh Penguins are on pace for one of their best point totals in franchise history.
The statistic, at this point, is totally misleading.
The defending Stanley Cup champions are comfortably in position for a playoff spot with under 10 games remaining in the season, yet hiding within this exceptional record lies a trend of performance a casual fan may overlook.
This team lacks extreme motivation and the necessity of rising to the occasion, and they've shown it most of the year.
Point blank, this team has casually played out the majority of this season, and it's striking a bit of fear as the second season approaches.
Fans will take the angle of "oh, well when it's playoff time, they will step it up and play with urgency."
Don't buy into it.
Instead, buy into this:
The Penguins have allowed other teams to steer the ship throughout the year, and instead of dictating the pace and style of the game, the team has, at some points, allowed their opponents to not only steal games, but dominate them as well.
This match-up would eventually develop a common trend in terms of final score.
November 5-12, 2009 - Four games played without a win, all against current playoff teams, and during that span, not only were they outscored 17-3, the Penguins were held without a goal during two of those contests.
The team went over 160 minutes without scoring a goal. No excuses for a team with so much scoring potential, even without the services of Evgeni Malkin during the streak.
December 7, 2009 - The Carolina Hurricanes came to Pittsburgh carrying an abysmal 0-10-3 road record, while the Penguins looked to extend an exceptional 7-2-1 record their previous 10 games prior to the contest.
It should have been an easy win, and surely the Penguins agreed, thus playing like an easy win. Turns out, it wasn't so easy, losing 3-2.
December 21 and December 30, 2009 - Two games against the Devils in just over a week, and two final scores that left fans scratching their heads in overwhelming frustration. Not only did Martin Brodeur set a new record with his 104th shutout December 21st, but added to his total with his 105th on December 30th.
Motivation was difficult to find towards the end of 2009, and the team struggled even more during the beginning of 2010.
January 21, 2010 - The much anticipated clash between Pittsburgh and the Washington Capitals didn't fare so well for fans at Mellon Arena. A second period 3-2 lead turned into a 6-3 crushing loss.
Washington displayed their offensive firepower and powerplay expertise (2 for 2), while Pittsburgh looked ugly during the man advantage (0 for 4) and essentially stopped playing after the second period.
February 7, 2010 - Want to blame it on the snow? Well, blame it on the snow, but also blame the Penguins for allowing Washington to come back from a 4-1 Penguins lead late in the second period.
It was the Alex Ovechkin show in the third period, and once again it was a display of "who wanted it more" when the game was on the line. Pittsburgh simply wasn't the team wanting the victory more.
March 12 and March 17, 2010 - With a chance to firmly strengthen their grip on the Atlantic Division, the Penguins took to the road against New Jersey twice, and on both occasions, fired up duds.
In what the hockey world calls the "four point swing", the Penguins vowed to allow the Devils to inch closer to the division lead, instead of building four more points on top of their cushion. The Devils also earned the sweep of the season series, a remarkable achievement being the teams faced off six times this year.
The Penguins will make the playoffs. That is a certainty.
How far will they go is the question, but as fans monitor the Eastern Conference, it doesn't seem certain the team is the favorite to make it back to the finals this year.
At this point, the team has not fared well against top teams from around the league.
The Penguins are a combined 1-12-2 against the Devils, Capitals, San Jose Sharks, Phoenix Coyotes, Los Angeles Kings, Vancouver Canucks, Chicago Blackhawks, and the Detroit Red Wings. The lone victory required a shootout to beat the Red Wings 2-1 back on January 31, 2010.
Yes, when the playoffs start, all of the team records are thrown out of the window. Every team is reset to zero.
It then becomes a race to 16 wins, but how confident should fans be going into the playoffs?
Do Penguins fans honestly believe the team will be the one to reach 16?
Zero regulation wins against eight playoff teams over the course of 15 contests.
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