NBCSN’s coverage of the 2017-18 NHL season continues with a doubleheader on Tuesday night as the Pittsburgh Penguins visit the Philadelphia Flyers (7pm ET), followed by the Edmonton Oilers hosting the Los Angeles Kings (9:30pm ET). Click here to watch live on our NBCSN Live Stream.
At the start of the season the Pittsburgh Penguins and Edmonton Oilers were the top-two favorites to win the Stanley Cup.
The Penguins were entering the season as back-to-back Stanley Cup champions.
The Oilers took a huge step forward in 2016-17 as part of their seemingly never-ending rebuild and not only returned to the playoffs for the first time since 2005-06, but were just one game away from reaching the Western Conference Finals.
The Penguins have Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin and Phil Kessel on their roster and got back their best defenseman (Kris Letang). The Oilers have the NHL’s reigning scoring champion, MVP and arguably the current best player in the world in Connor McDavid who is accompanied by Leon Draisaitl and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins.
Today, as the 2018 portion of the season kicks off and we prepare to head into the second half of the season both teams are on the outside of the playoff picture in their respective conferences and have a lot of work to do before they can punch a ticket for postseason.
They are both in action on Tuesday night as part of an NBCSN doubleheader and need to start turning their seasons around right now.
In the first game, the Penguins visit their cross-state rivals in Philadelphia for a huge game in the Eastern Conference playoff race. The Penguins enter the game just one point ahead of the Flyers while the Flyers still have two games in hand. They enter the night three points out of a playoff spot, and while they may not seem like a huge deficit with still half of the season remaining there are a few things worth remembering.
First is that the Penguins have played more games than most of the teams they are competing with and currently have the worst points percentage in the Metropolitan Division. Their 5-on-5 offense has been non-existent this season and they have no scoring depth to speak of beyond their top-two lines.
If we assume it takes 95 points to make the playoffs in the Eastern Conference — which it has in each of the past three seasons — the Penguins will need to collect 54 points over the next 42 games. That would be a .642 points percentage. Below we see the Penguins’ points percentage broken down into rolling 42-game segments to show how often they have played at that sort of pace (the red line is a .642 points percentage).
In other words, they need to play the next 42 games the same way they played most of the 2016-17 season. With a roster — particularly at forward — that does not really resemble the 2016-17 one. Without a couple of roster moves to help replenish that depth that is going to be a challenge, unless they see a pretty significant regression to the mean in regards to their team shooting percentage. With half of the forward roster being what it is, that does not seem like it is terribly likely to happen.
In somewhat of a surprise move, the Penguins are going with Tristain Jarry as their starting goaltender tonight and not Matt Murray. Murray has struggled this season and is getting a rest for the first time this season when he is not injured or as part of a back-to-back situation.
The Flyers, meanwhile, are trying to find some consistency. Claude Giroux, Jakub Voracek and Sean Couturier have been outstanding offensively but the team has experienced extended lows (a 10-game losing streak), extended highs (a six-game winning streak), and extended mediocrity (their current 2-2-1 run over the past five games).
The Penguins and Flyers face off at 7 p.m. ET.
In the late game the NHL’s other disappointment, the Edmonton Oilers, will be hosting the Los Angeles Kings.
If the Penguins’ situation in the playoff race seems like it is going to be a struggle, the Oilers’ situation looks completely dire.
The Oilers not only have to make up more points (seven) to get into a playoff spot, they also have to jump over more teams (five for a wild card spot; three for one of the Pacific Division spots).
The preseason hype around the Oilers was probably a bit too much, even with their success a year ago. It is still a team that is largely dependent on McDavid being able to single handedly carry the offense. A lot of their winning a year ago was based on the fact that McDavid had one of the best offensive seasons the league has seen in a decade and Cam Talbot played nearly every game at a reasonably high level helping to mask a lot of flaws on defense. Talbot has missed time this season due to injury and has not repeated his performance when he has been on the ice. That has created a lot of problems and the Oilers are back to being one of the worst teams in the league when it comes to preventing goals.
The second wild card team in the West right now is on pace for 91 points, meaning the Oilers would need to hit the 92-point mark to get in. That would require 55 points over the next 43 games, a points percentage of .639. Are the Oilers, as currently constructed, capable of such a run? Based on what they have shown this season, it seems really unlikely.
On Tuesday they are hosting a Kings team that is going through a bit of a resurgence after missing the playoffs in two of the past three seasons.
Kopitar is playing at an MVP level this season and is back to being one of the best two-way players in the game, matching his shutdown defensive play with a point-per-game offensive performance. Brown is having his best offensive season since 2011-12.
Puck drop for their game is at 9:30 p.m. ET.