The Pens can win, but will they win?

PITTSBURGH — It looks like the Penguins are going down to the wire, which is not what management had in mind.

They’re in a fight for a playoff spot, but they can take an important stride this week with back-to-back games against the Columbus Blue Jackets.

The Penguins seem to have the Blue Jackets’ number, much in the way they did against the Washington Capitals until last year’s playoff elimination.

The Penguins should be favored to make the playoffs because of their talent level even though it’s been too inconsistent this season. If Matt Murray irons out his ups and downs and Phil Kessel and Patric Hornquist cure their prolonged slumps, they’re in.

That also assumes Sidney Crosby, Kris Letang and Murray avoid any kind of disabling injury, of course. Especially Crosby. As rocky as the road has been this season, he’s carried the team at both ends of the rink.

Perspective

Interesting how issues are looked at inside this area as opposed to the way outsiders view them.

For example, Ben Roethlisberger is taking a pounding nationally for alienating Antonio Brown, leading to the mess that’s been dragging on for more than two months now.

Yet the perception locally is that Brown is either crazy or trying to force a new contract — or both. There’s been very little blame aimed at the quarterback.

Crosby is being talked about as a Hart Trophy (Most Valuable Player) candidate in Pittsburgh, but there’s little support for his candidacy outside the area.

Tampa Bays Nikita Kucherov led the NHL with 106 points heading into Tuesday’s game and is considered the favorite for the Hart.

Salad days

Matt Cullen played his 1,500th game for the Penguins Tuesday night, the latest milestone in a career that started in 1997.

Crosby was 10 when Cullen suited up for the Anaheim Ducks for the first time.

It takes dedication and discipline to last that long, as another Penguins veteran pointed out years ago.

“You’re at a cookout in the summer and you smell the steaks on the grill,” Joe Mullen said. “And you’re sitting there having a salad.”

Mullen played his last game at age 40. Cullen is currently 42.

Ready or not

Spring training games don’t mean anything.

The Pirates were reminded of that a few years ago when they put Juan Nicasio in the starting rotation based on some lights-out work in Florida.

That said, it’s a bit concerning that No. 1 pitching prospect Mitch Keller has been roughed up in his first two exhibition outings.

On the other hand, it’s been encouraging to see Jung Ho Kang show some much-needed power in the early games.

Then again, let’s remember that Mark Johnson was the Babe Ruth of Florida one spring, and that didn’t translate to the reality of the regular season.

So let’s stick with the original observation — spring training games don’t mean anything.

More losses

With the recent deaths of pitchers Bob Friend and Joe Gibbon, only 10 players remain from the Pirates’ 1960 World Series roster.

Makes you wonder if the team should stage any more reunions for the surviving members of that team.

Sometimes those small gatherings are more melancholy than celebratory because so many players are gone.

Mehno can be reached at johnmehnocolumn@gmail.com

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