By Shane Darrow on March 27, 2014
With 10 games left in the regular season, the Pittsburgh Penguins currently have an 11-point lead in the Metropolitan Division and are one win away from clinching a playoff spot. They have their eyes on catching the Boston Bruins for the top spot in the Eastern Conference, but considering the Bruins have a seven-point lead on the Pens and are 12-0-1 in their last 13 games, it's unlikely the Pens can top them.
Earlier in the year, the Penguins took a firm grasp on the idea of making the safe play in the defensive zone. If there wasn't a play, it was high and hard off the glass. The Penguins' defensemen weren't afraid to take an icing if need be, but in the last few games there have been countless opportunities for the Pens to get out of the zone and they tried to make the fancy play. In the playoffs, poor defensive turnovers just can't happen.
There have been a lot of players in and out of the lineup this year, mainly due to injuries, but newly acquired players like Lee Stempniak and Marcel Goc need to get comfortable with their spot in the lineup. Stempniak has been great alongside Sidney Crosby and Chris Kunitz, whereas Goc has been consistently moved around. He'll likely end up on the wing of the third line, so getting comfortable with Brandon Sutter will be crucial moving forward.
If there is an immediate focus that the Penguins need to have it's definitely on their discipline. In the last few games, the Penguins have continuously taken poor penalties – whether it be in the offensive zone or retaliatory – which will cost them severely in the playoffs. As I mentioned, special teams is an essential piece of playoff hockey, so the less time the Penguins spend in the box, the better.
The Penguins might become only the third team in the last four years to reach 500 man games lost in one season. As the Penguins begin to get closer to the end of the playoffs, it wouldn't be crazy for head coach Dan Bylsma to rest some of the Penguins' star power. The training staff also has to focus on the health of Evgeni Malkin, who is currently sidelined with a hairline fracture in his foot.
The Penguins still statistically have the best power play in the NHL. But there is always room for improvement, and it hasn't looked as perfected during the post-Olympic season. Their penalty kill has been brutal – allowing nine power play goals in the last 12 games. Special teams is always crucial in the playoffs, and the Pens need to be clicking on all cylinders.
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