DALLAS, TX - FEBRUARY 29: Marc-Andre Fleury #29 of the Pittsburgh Penguins celebrates an overtime shootout win against the Dallas Stars at American Airlines Center on February 29, 2012 in Dallas, Texas. (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)
"If March comes in like a lion, it'll go out like a lamb. If it comes in like a lamb, it'll go out like a lion."
For the Pittsburgh Penguins it appears on paper that the latter will be the case.
The Pens play a road game in Denver this Saturday, where they'll meet a Colorado Avalanche team that has won its past four games. Then the Pens come home for four straight home games. And that's all they play in the first half of the month.
To be fair, the quantity isn't much- but the quality is. The Avs are currently riding a four-game winning streak, the next team up (Phoenix Coyotes) are probably the hottest team in hockey right now, being as they were 11-0-1 in the month of February. Then Pittsburgh gets the Toronto Maple Leafs, a slumping team fighting for their playoff chances (and one that's given the Pens fits in recent years) before the boys in black and gold see current Southeastern division leader in the Florida Panthers and then receive a visit from the defending Stanley Cup champion Boston Bruins.
And yes, believe it or not, that's going to be considered the EASY half of the month because on March 15th, in the 16 days for the rest of the month Pittsburgh will play 10 times. And it's not just a high number of games, it's a crucial stretch that starts with a bang seeing an intense three-game road trip to the New York Rangers, New Jersey Devils and the Philadelphia Flyers- the other three top teams in the Atlantic division.
Next up will see four of the next five games in the comfort of the Consol Energy Center but still some challenging games against the Nashville Predators, Ottawa Senators and another game with the Devils. Then the Pens have a home-and-home with the New York Islanders before the month finally ends with a game in Buffalo.
Caught your breath yet? It's going to be a hectic sprint the second half of March as the Pens battle many teams for division and conference positioning for the playoffs. With the status of Sidney Crosby (and now dare we say Kris Letang) in question, the depth of the organization will again be tested. Evgeni Malkin is playing at a true MVP level and guys like James Neal, Marc-Andre Fleury and Jordan Staal are playing like superstars as well. Beyond that, the Pens will need contributions up and down the lineup to continue their winning ways.
Some more assorted points about the 15 game March schedule for the Pens:
- 9 of the first 12 games of the month are against teams currently in the top 8 of their respective conferences
- 6 games versus Atlantic division rivals (2 vs. NYI; 2 vs. NJD; 1 vs. NYR, 1 vs. PHI)
- 3 afternoon games
- Longest home-stand of the season in terms of games, 4 (from March 5th - 11th)
- The last three regular season games of the season against Western Conference teams
- 3 sets of games on back-to-back nights (Mar 17/18, Mar 24/25, Mar 29/30). In all three cases, all the games are in separate cities, necessitating travel in addition to the games