Pens may want to start a win streak

PITTSBURGH — A few months ago the debate question was whether the Penguins could win a third consecutive Stanley Cup.

Now the question is whether they’ll make the playoffs.

The Penguins have enough talent to catch fire and cruise comfortably into the postseason field. But that spark hasn’t appeared yet, and the All-Star break looms this weekend.

Entering Tuesday night’s home game against Carolina, the Penguins were 25-21-3, for 53 points in 49 games. They were on a pace to finish with 88 points.

The cutoff point in the Eastern Conference last season was 95 points. The Toronto Maple Leafs nosed out the New York Islanders and Tampa Bay (94 points each) for the final playoff spot.

The NHL used to play a full season to eliminate five teams. The league has expanded, with the playoff field remaining at 16. That means 15 teams will be excluded this season.

The playoffs aren’t as automatic as they used to be, and the Penguins had better pick up the pace if they hope to defend their championship.

What happened? Two things. The grind of two extended seasons caught up with them, and some of the players who left (Nick Bonino, Marc-Andre Fleury, Chris Kunitz) were harder to replace than anticipated.

The Penguins looked like they’d finally built some momentum, then went on a western trip that saw them drop two of three games.

They need to get on some kind of streak. Winning eight out of 10 would help a lot.

It’s hard enough to repeat, even more difficult to three-peat. And it’s impossible if you don’t even get a spot in the postseason.

Headed north

There’s been some snickering about Todd Haley signing on to be the Cleveland Browns’ new offensive coordinator.

Haley landed the job within a week after the Steelers fired him and replaced him with quarterbacks coach Randy Fichtner.

But the Browns can only get better. You can’t do worse than 0-16. So maybe he’s in a no-lose situation.

Maybe Haley is also in position to move up to a head coaching job. Incumbent coach Hue Jackson is 1-31 in his two seasons with the Browns. If the team starts 0-8, he’ll probably be sacrificed.

Who would be a more logical candidate to take over than Haley, who was head coach at Kansas City from 2009-11?

Hall’s call

The Baseball Hall of Fame will announce election results this evening at 6.

Chipper Jones and Jim Thome seem the most likely candidates for induction.

The annual issue is what kind of vote total suspected steroid users like Roger Clemens and Barry Bonds will get. The resistance to including them has been weakening, especially since the electorate was altered to purge older voters from the rolls.

The argument is that both Clemens and Bonds were well on their way to Hall-level careers before they allegedly got any medicinal help.

It’s a fair point.

There’s less merit in the stance that some voters take, saying it’s not their job to decide who used and who didn’t. Is there a workout program that can make a person’s hat and shoe sizes increase the way Bonds’ did over the course of his career?

Voters who ignore the obvious signs are just saying that it’s nice and warm when they stick their heads in the sand.

Mehno can be reached at johnmehnocolumn@gmail.com.

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