One of the good things about the NHL schedule, or not so good things depending on your perspective, is how stacked it is. At this bye week break, for example, the Penguins sit having played 50 out of their 82 games of the regular season. These games have featured just 11 matchups against the Metropolitan Division (including none against Washington or Carolina and just one against NYR).
The Pens have played 26 Western Conference games, or currently more than half of their schedule. There are just four more WC games left to come, with 28 of the remaining 32 games going up against Eastern Conference opponent. This was done by design so that now late in the season the games ramp up against the teams that Pittsburgh will be fighting for to get into the playoffs.
It won’t take long for fireworks — on Friday the Pens host Philadelphia, then on Sunday afternoon they get their first glimpse of the first place Capitals this season in Washington DC. Then the Pens play eight straight games against Atlantic Division foes, including two games against each of the Tampa Bay Lightning and Toronto Maple Leafs.
To entertain ourselves on the bye week, here’s some stats and figures about how the Pens have fared broken out by division, with a look of what is yet to come...
Metropolitan Division - 11 games played (5-3-3), 17 more games to come
The Pens haven’t been great against division rivals (only a pace of 96 points in a full season), but still have a majority of the contests still to come. The most important games figure to be against Washington (4), NYI (1), Carolina (4) and Columbus (1) who are nearest to them in the standings.
Atlantic Division - 13 games played (6-7-0), 11 more games to go
Perhaps the surprising metric, Pittsburgh has struggled mightily against the other Eastern division team. And if you took out the games against Detroit (2-0) and Ottawa (1-0), the Pens’ record is a very ugly 3-7 mark against the non-doormat teams of that division.
As mentioned above, that will be put to the test from February 6th - 22nd when the Pens get @TB, @FLA, TB, MTL, DET, TOR, @TOR, BUF on their plate. Then in early March it’ll be OTT, @BUF to close things out, which should be post-deadline versions of non-playoff teams, which are just begging to be two points at that time of year for a playoff bound team.
Central Division - 13 games played (11-2-0), 1 more game to go (@CHI)
Should Pens fans petition the league to join the Central? At this point, it doesn’t seem like a bad idea! Only a 5-2 loss @STL and a 4-1 home loss to Winnipeg has kept them from a perfect record, with Pittsburgh already completing the season sweeps against Colorado, Dallas, Minnesota and Nashville, with the opportunity coming to sweep Chicago coming up as well. A lot of the great positioning the Pens are in right now can be directly pointed back to winning all of these games and racking up a ton of points here.
Pacific Division - 13 games played (9-2-2), 3 more to go (@SJ, @LA, @ANA)
The success against the Pacific Division, isn’t too far behind. Pittsburgh has swept the season series with Calgary, Arizona and could add Anaheim and Los Angeles to the list with a future California trip against those not great teams.
Some other random thoughts:
- The Pens are just 3-2-0 at home vs the Atlantic Division and a not great 3-5-0 on road against those teams, including of course 0-2 in Boston where they’ve struggled for years now. But that is perhaps one source of optimism to have six more Atlantic games still to come at home, where Pittsburgh is one of the league’s best teams (18-5-3 record overall).
- There should be a good chance to finish out the Western schedule really strong, facing no playoff teams in the four chances left and having a 3-0-1 record against the teams so far. That gives the opportunity to really ring up the points in the out of conference schedule. Last year Pittsburgh was 18-11-1 in the 30 games last season. They’re already 20-4-2 right now.
- Sunday March 7th (home day game against Washington) starts the REAL crunch stretch. 14 out of the next 15 games through April 2nd at that point will be against division foes. Pittsburgh will play Carolina three times in a 17 day stretch in that time period. The Pens play the Rangers three times in a 16 game period then as well. Lots of familiar faces to be seen then.
- It’s almost past football, which means it’s NBC szn for the NHL. Get ready for plenty of day game accordingly. Pittsburgh has nine day games still to come. Three are against the Captials for the ready-made rivalry to continue to get a national focus.
- Weirdly enough (and in part NBC related) — but the Pens are inactive and off on more times still to come this season on Saturdays (3 times) than they are on Sundays (they play all but 2 Sundays). Don’t see that too often in a league like the NHL where Saturday night games are usually king.
- Which means that Monday is the new day of rest. The Pens don’t play again on a single Monday again this regular season. So if you have some kind of recurring task or errand or nightly appointment to make and don’t want to miss a Pens’ game, make it a Monday. You’ll be safe until April at least.