The Penguins were 22-6-4 by the end of Dec. 20. Now they’re reduced to rooting for the Toronto Maple Leafs in the hopes that the struggling franchise will bail them out after Pittsburgh suffered a 4-1 loss to the Philadelphia Flyers.
This was Pittsburgh’s ninth loss in its last 12 games, but to the Penguins’ credit, they came out strong tonight. Most of the first period was all Pittsburgh and if not for Flyers goaltender Steve Mason’s heroics, the Penguins might have built up a sizable lead early. Instead Pittsburgh only had a 1-0 edge when Daniel Winnik took a bad crosschecking penalty late in the first period. Philadelphia’s Jakub Voracek capitalized on the opportunity.
So while the Penguins outshot Philadelphia 22-4 in the first period, the game was tied going into the intermission. Midway through the second, Brayden Schenn netted what proved to be the game-winning goal for the Flyers.
Pittsburgh continued to outshoot Philadelphia in every period, but Mason managed to stop an incredible 46 of 47 shots to complete the Flyers’ season series sweep.
With that the Penguins have a 42-26-11 record. If Ottawa beats Toronto tonight then the Penguins’ hold on a playoff spot will be reduced to a single point. That would make Pittsburgh’s game against the Senators on Tuesday all the more critical.
The Penguins missing the playoffs would be nothing short of a disaster given their preseason expectations, but there’s another wrinkle that would make that scenario even more embarrassing. Back in January when Pittsburgh looked more like a serious Stanley Cup contender than a Wild Card hopeful, Pittsburgh sent their first round pick in the deep 2015 draft along with Rob Klinkhammer to Edmonton in exchange for David Perron. It would be particularly disheartening for the Penguins if that proved to be a lottery pick.