By Joe Starkey
Sidney Crosby leads the NHL in scoring with 79 points. Mandatory Credit: Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports
It seems we've reached the point where a six-month, 82-game regular season means nothing around here. Who has time for such triviality? Hurry up and win the Cup.
Don't be fooled. The regular season matters.
Every team's first objective is to qualify for the playoffs, and that's not a birthright. It's earned. You need a ticket to the postseason tournament.
Go ask the Penguins' next opponent, the Philadelphia Flyers, if the regular season matters. The Flyers are ticket-less for the second time in three years. They were eliminated from contention Sunday. That means their pesky little Stanley Cup drought will hit the 40-year mark (or 14,555 days, according to the ever-helpful Twitter feed “@SinceFlyersLastCup”.)
Go ask the defending champion Los Angeles Kings or the San Jose Sharks if the regular season matters. Both were out of playoff position going into Tuesday's games.
From the minimum-threshold perspective, then, the Penguins are on track for a successful regular season.
But how about an overall perspective?
Has it been an impressive season?
I can't fathom a reasonable answer besides yes, considering the circumstances.
If I told you in September the Penguins would be without a top-four defenseman (Olli Maatta) and a top-line winger (Pascal Dupuis) for virtually the entire year and that $4 million free agent Christian Ehrhoff would miss 30-plus games, would you still have projected them to be on pace for home-ice advantage in the first-round and 100-plus points with six games left?
What if I added that Patric Hornqvist would miss 18 games, Evgeni Malkin and Kris Letang 10-plus, Beau Bennett 30-plus, Blake Comeau 20-plus, etc.?
If you're at all rational, you don't willfully ignore injuries. The Penguins are fourth in the league in man-games lost, and according to the website mangameslost.com, only one team (New Jersey) has lost more quality talent to injury.
As in life, so it is in hockey: Health is everything. The Kings were 29th in man-games lost last season. They won the Cup. This is not astrophysics. The Penguins are 34-13-6 with Hornqvist and Malkin in the lineup, 8-10-5 when one or both is missing.
The Penguins, clearly, have issues besides health. But the purpose here is not to judge their playoff readiness. It's to appraise their regular season, 76 games in, and I see 42 wins, 95 points and home-ice in the first round despite a never-ending onslaught of adversity.
In two weeks, it's true — none of it will matter. But if you look at those numbers and claim the Penguins are having a subpar season, or even a so-so one, you're one of three things: delusional, irrational or spoiled rotten.
Joe Starkey co-hosts a show 2 to 6 p.m. weekdays on 93.7 FM. Reach him at email@example.com.
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