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California dreamin’

For the Penguins, games in California have not been so sunny lately

NHL: FEB 29 Penguins at Sharks Photo by Douglas Stringer/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

The Penguins are in the midst of a season-long six game road trip that now sees them swing out to play against almost all the teams located in the southwest corner of the NHL’s footprint (Dallas, Anaheim, Los Angeles, San Jose, Vegas). The Pens hit all the spots out that way besides Arizona, for whatever reason.

This week is the California leg of the trip, and playing in that state has been quite the challenge for Pittsburgh in recent years. The Pens are just 2-7-0 in games in California in the last five years.

Penguins recent results for games @California

Date Opponent Score
Date Opponent Score
2/29/2020 San Jose 0-5
2/28/2020 Anaheim 2-3
2/26/2020 Los Angeles 1-2
1/15/2019 San Jose 2-5
1/12/2019 Los Angeles 2-5
1/11/2019 Anaheim 7-4
1/20/2018 San Jose 1-2
1/18/2018 Los Angeles 3-1
1/17/2018 Anaheim 3-5

It’s been almost two years since the Pens have been seen in California, which probably isn’t the worst thing for the team’s chances. You might remember that 2020 trip (concluded just a few weeks before the season would be shut down when the COVID pandemic started) was particularly brutal, sending the Pens to a six game losing streak after they lost on Leap Day to San Jose.

The other crazy aspect is just how mediocre, or downright bad the California teams have been recently. In 2020, Anaheim LA and San Jose finished 13th, 14th and 15th respectively in the then-15 team Western Conference. In 2019 SJ did make the playoffs, but the two southern California teams were again at the bottom of the conference. In 2018 all three teams did qualify for the playoffs, so there’s that.

The CA teams haven’t been world beaters, but the Pens have still have had difficulties. As you may notice above, there is a certain rhythm or pattern to the schedule. The Pens typically start out in California playing in Anaheim (they will tomorrow as well). They always end by moving up north to play San Jose for the third game (they do that this season again too). Recently the Pens always play a back-to-back in their California stretch (they will not continue that trend, playing Tuesday-Thursday-Saturday). In the past they have always completed the three games in four days (five days this year).

So the schedule is slightly more favorable for Pittsburgh. But the competition is slightly better than expected and probably tougher than past years as well. The Ducks sit in second place in the division with a 19-12-7 record, not too many preseason predictions expected much out of them, but they have over-achieved with the energy and skill additions of youthful players like Trevor Zegras and Troy Terry bursting onto the scene. Similarly, the Kings and Sharks have been a bit better than expected and hold a points percentage over .500.

Overall the Cali teams are a combined 31-18-7 this season at home, it hasn’t just been a Pittsburgh problem, there have been tons of teams that struggle for whatever reason playing on the road in probably a much nicer winter climate than they are used to.

Playing out west in California has been tough on the Pens lately, and now that the three teams are actually playing tougher than most might have expected, it makes for an even bigger challenge now for a Pittsburgh team far from home and out on the road on a long trip. The Pens did go 2-0-1 in California on a November 2016 trip and will be looking for the first time since those days to find success and get results out in that state.