The Penguins still have time to salvage their season.
Just not much of it.
Probably not enough, actually, unless they can break some of the habits that got them in such a tenuous spot to begin with.
Things like not winning more than two games in a row -- they haven't managed to string three victories together since mid-November -- and giving away so many points that they should be allowed to claim a deduction on their taxes.
Every team loses some games it should win over the course of an 82-game season, but the Penguins might have exhausted their quota for the next few years in the first three-quarters of 2008-09.
Their regular season will be over in seven weeks and if, when they return from the April 11 finale in Montreal, the Penguins are preparing for a breakup party instead of the first round of the playoffs, they can reflect on the following defeats and wonder how different things might have been if they hadn't been so generous:
Oct. 11: 2-1 (overtime), New Jersey at home ... The Penguins not only are outshot, 49-15, but also give up the tying goal with 2:29 left in regulation and winner with 38 seconds to go in OT.
Oct. 16: 4-3, Washington at home ... They squander a 3-0 lead, giving up four unanswered goals in the final 35 minutes.
Oct. 25: 3-2 (shootout) at New York Rangers ... New York gets into position to salvage not only one point, but also two, by scoring twice in the final 15 minutes of the third period, including one with less than 9 seconds left.
Nov. 22: 3-1, Vancouver at home ... Canucks goalie Roberto Luongo leaves the game with a groin injury three minutes after the opening faceoff, but the Penguins generate just 18 shots on his replacement, the renowned Curtis Sanford.
Dec. 3: 3-2 (shootout) at Rangers ... Another two-goal lead surrendered, another goal late in the third period to force overtime.
Dec. 8: 4-3, Buffalo at home ... The Penguins construct a 3-1 lead in the first 22 minutes, then watch as the Sabres score the final three.
Dec. 20: 7-3, Toronto at home ... A thorough spanking by one of the league's bottom-feeders. First in a series, as it turned out.
Dec. 23: 2-0, Tampa Bay at home ... The Penguins begin their Christmas break a day early, as the sputtering Lightning outshoot them, 29-15, and force reporters and broadcasters to learn to spell and/or pronounce the surname of Paul Szczechura (one goal, one assist).
Dec. 27: 3-2, Montreal at home ... Forget being outshot, 34-19. Pin this loss largely on a 0-for-5 performance by the power play. Not that that distinguishes it from a lot of other defeats this season.
Jan. 3: 6-1, Florida at home ... The Panthers look like a legit playoff team now, but they didn't in early January. Except maybe for the day they outclassed the Penguins in every facet of play.
Jan. 8: 5-3 at Nashville ... The Penguins dominate the first period and take a three-goal lead after 24 minutes. Deciding to mostly watch the final 36 isn't such a good idea, though.
Jan. 10: 5-2 at Colorado ... The Avalanche were offensively challenged until the Penguins came to town, at which time Colorado shoots 5 for 32 from the field.
Jan. 14: 6-3, Washington at home ... Another late-game implosion against a team the Penguins traditionally have their way with. The Capitals score three times in the final 12 minutes to turn a 3-3 tie into a laugher.
Jan. 20: 4-3 (overtime) at New Jersey ... The Devils clearly are the better team, but the Penguins allow the final three goals after taking a 3-1 lead. Jamie Langenbrunner forces overtime by scoring with 31 seconds left in regulation, then ends it with a minute to go in the extra period.
Jan. 31: 5-4 at Toronto ... Goalie Mathieur Garon get his first chance to show his new teammates what he could do. At least on this night, stopping pucks isn't on the list.
Feb. 3: 4-2 at Montreal ... The Canadiens are on the verge of unraveling, but rather than accelerate the process, the Penguins give Montreal a one-game reprieve.
Feb. 14: 6-2 at Toronto ... The absolute low point in a season full of them. The Penguins yield six unanswered goals to a team that was showing very little interest in how the game turned out.
Feb. 16: 3-2 (shootout) at New York Islanders ... One day after coach Michel Therrien pays for the debacle at the Air Canada Centre with his job, the Penguins find a way to be a bit worse than the worst team in hockey.
The Penguins' focus these days is on the rather daunting challenge before them, but at least a few take time to sneak an occasional peek at how the other teams competing for playoff spots in the Eastern Conference are faring.
While center Jordan Staal said, "I try not to" because "that's really out of our control," defenseman Rob Scuderi acknowledged an interest, especially on nights when the Penguins do not play.
"I think I always did," he said. "I think now it's just a little more meaningful for us, trying to get a playoff spot."
Of course, if the Penguins don't start to accumulate points, what the rest of the conference does won't matter. Which is why, while Scuderi keeps up with games being played elsewhere, he doesn't obsess about them.
"You kind of take a look at it," he said. "But at the same time, you try to not take it too seriously so that you don't put even more pressure on yourself so you can just go out there and play and try to win some hockey games."
Dave Molinari can be reached at DWMolinari@Yahoo.com . First Published February 22, 2009 5:00 AM