There is no other way to put, the Penguins ended February in the worst possible way imaginable, losers of six straight games including a brutal three game stretch against the putrid California teams that saw them outscored 10-3 on the trip.
Now they return home, battered and beaten, but still very much in control of their own destiny going forward. Another plus for the Penguins is that they are either even on games played or hold a few games in hand over teams around them in the standings.
If they hope to put this losing streak behind them and return to their winning ways, they will have a bevy of chances to do so this month. Sitting on only 64 games played, the Penguins will have to wade through a busy March before they can worry about taking a run at another Stanley Cup.
Let’s take a quick look forward and see what (or who) the Penguins will be facing during this final full month of regular season hockey.
March Schedule at a Glance
Not going to try and sugar coat it, that’s a lot of hockey to be played in a very short amount of time. That’s not exactly what you want to be looking at coming off a six game losing streak, but it provides the Penguins with more than ample opportunity to collect a lot of points and solidify their playoff position.
Let’s Break it Down
- The March slate sees the Penguins playing 16 games in 28 days, beginning on March 3rd against the Ottawa Senators and concluding on March 31st against the New Jersey Devils. This will be their busiest month of the season, surpassing the 14 games played in November.
- Based on the standings as of this writing, the Penguins are slated to play 11 games against teams either in the playoffs or within five points of a playoff spot.
- It is a dead even split between home games and road games in March. They will play eight games both at home and on the road. If you take into account the two games in April, they will play an even number of home and road games the rest of the season. A perfect balance. (No word if Thanos is a lowkey Penguins fan.)
- Road games will come in streaks this month. March 5th against the Sabres and March 18th against the Rangers are the only two stand alone road games in March. The other six road games occur on a pair of three games trips. There is one three game home stand in the second half of the month.
- That game against the Rangers is the front end of the only true home-and-home series the Penguins will have in May.
- It’s going to be Metro Mania for the Penguins in March, playing 13 games within the division, including a stretch of 10 straight beginning on March 7th against the Capitals. This is where playoff seeding will likely be determined.
- With that many division games on the docket, it makes sense that the Penguins will face-off with each of the six Metro opponents at least once during the month. The Penguins and Hurricanes will meet four times during March with no other Metro opponent on the schedule more than twice.
- In the three games they do not play against the division, two will be against the Senators and Sabres from the Atlantic division while their lone Western Conference game will be against the Blackhawks.
- Four back-to-back sets await the Penguins this month. One home/home, one road/road, and two home/road (or vice versa). Three of the back-to-back sets take place over the weekend with two having afternoon puck drops.
- Speaking of afternoon tilts, there are five games scheduled to start sometime between 12:00-1:30 PM, which may cause some worry but as we talked about a few weeks ago, the Penguins afternoon game record is better than you probably think.
- Not including this two day break returning from California, the Penguins will only have a pair of multi-day breaks in March. The first coming March 16-17 and the second coming March 26-27. Taking into account the brief April slate, those are the only multi-day breaks left for the Penguins this season.
Above we discussed the loaded Metro division schedule on tap for the Penguins in March. In total, the team will play 13 games against Metro division rivals, including 10 straight beginning on Saturday.
Before we go any further, let’s take a look at how the Metro stacks up as of right now...
And the standings including the Atlantic division and Wild Card situation...
These baker’s dozen of games against the Metro will be what decides the Penguins fate this season. It’s easy to be down about the team as they battle through the losing streak, but the schedule sets up nicely to bank A LOT of points in March against teams they are either chasing or being chased by.
One big number to focus on is the games played difference between the Penguins and the Columbus Blue Jackets. Right now the Blue Jackets trail the Penguins by only two points, but the Penguins hold a crucial three games in hand. Those games only mean something if you win them, but it’s a nice edge to have.
Many people will debate the importance of home ice advantage in the playoffs, but looking at the Penguins road record and the road record of a potential first round opponent like say, I don’t know, the Philadelphia Flyers, maybe getting those four guaranteed games on home ice are important. Just something to keep in mind.
It’s hard to believe the Penguins and Hurricanes and yet to play this season (only team Pens have not played), but that is the reality and the two sides will make up for it in March. They play all four of their games this month, beginning on March 8th in Pittsburgh. All four games will be a part of a back-to-back situation.
Currently the Hurricanes sit three points out of a playoff spot and five behind the Penguins. Both sides are sitting on 64 games played.
Let’s Play Some Hockey
As the Penguins enter March, it’s easy to feel a bit down due to the losing streak and their rather uninspired play over the last two weeks. One thing to keep in mind while they work out the kinks, just two weeks ago they sat in first place and the fan base was euphoric. That may seem so long ago at this point, but the reality is, they aren’t that far off from being in first again.
The Penguins aren’t as bad as this current stretch may have you think, and with all the injuries they were likely playing above their head a bit to this point anyhow. Two major reinforcements are nearing return and the trade pieces look like they fit in well At full strength, they can compete with anyone.
When the schedule was released last summer, this was always going to be the make-or-break stretch for this Penguins team and they have put themselves in the perfect position to make a run, losing streak be damned. More good than bad from these four point games will have the Penguins in the thick of the playoff chase.
It all starts Tuesday night.