October is finally here— and that means regular-season hockey is just over the horizon.
Wondering what to expect in the first two weeks of the regular season, when the Penguins take on the Coyotes, Lightning and Kings at home while facing the Canadiens and Blue Jackets on the road?
Here’s a brief reminder of what happened last season when the Penguins faced these first five opponents.
Arizona Coyotes @ Pittsburgh Penguins
Thursday, October 13 at 7pm
2021-22 record: 2-0-0 (6-3 home win, 1/25; 4-1 road win, 3/19)
2021-22 summary: The Coyotes ranked 31st in the NHL in goals allowed in 2021-22, something the Penguins took advantage of last season.
But their January 25th matchup at PPG Paints Arena, where Arizona led 3-2 in the third period until the Penguins launched a comeback, showed Arizona can still cause damage with talented scorers Nick Schmaltz and Clayton Keller if Pittsburgh’s defense does not put up a cohesive front.
Former Penguin connection: Penguins fans will not be seeing Cup champion Phil Kessel during this Thursday night home opener. Kessel signed in Vegas as a UFA this offseason, so he will return to PPG Paints Arena with the Golden Knights on December 1.
Tampa Bay Lightning @ Pittsburgh Penguins
Saturday, October 15 at 7pm
2021-22 record: 2-1-0 (6-2 road win, 10/2; 5-1 home loss, 10/26; 5-1 road win, 3/3)
2021-22 summary: The Penguins opened their 2021-22 season against the Lightning last year. The game began with Danton Heinen scoring just 12 seconds in, and ended with three empty-netters to complete a 6-2 victory in Amalie Arena— a final score which made this win look much more dominant than it really was.
The Lightning got their revenge later that month with a decisive 5-1 victory, the exact same margin of the Penguins’ win in the spring. These two teams were both top 11 in the NHL in goals last season, and you can likely expect another high-scoring game on Saturday.
Former Penguin connection: Between Pittsburgh, Columbus, Colorado, Minnesota and Carolina, Ian Cole has had a busy few years. Now he’s in Tampa Bay on a one-year, $3 million contract, and will be greeting some old friends in Pittsburgh during this second matchup of the season.
Pittsburgh Penguins @ Montreal Canadiens
Monday, October 17 at 7pm
2021-22 record: 2-1-0 (6-0 road win, 11/18; 6-3 home loss, 11/27; 5-2 home win, 12/14)
2021-22 summary: November 18 marked one of the Penguins’ most dominant wins of the 2021-22 season. The Sidney Crosby line scored two goals, the second power-play unit stepped up, and Teddy Blueger helped make up for a missing Evgeni Malkin with his only two-goal game of the campaign.
It was one of three quality performances by the Penguins against the Canadiens last year. Don’t be fooled by the boxscore of that 6-3 loss, which included a trio of late empty-net goals— Pittsburgh matched up well against this team in 2021-22.
Former Penguin connection: Mike Matheson had a career year with the Penguins last season, racking up an all-time best 31 points (11 goals, 20 assists) in 74 games and solidifying as one of Pittsburgh’s best defensemen. When he returns to Pittsburgh early this season, he will hope to show his old team he’s still got that scoring touch.
Los Angeles Kings @ Pittsburgh Penguins
Thursday, October 20 at 7pm
2021-22 record: 0-2-0 (6-2 road loss, 1/13; 4-3 home loss, 1/30)
2021-22 summary: The Penguins tend to struggle against the Los Angeles Kings on the road— they have an all-time 22-50-8 record in LA. Maybe it’s the time difference, or maybe the exhaustion of a West Coast road trip. But this season, the Kings come to Pittsburgh first, so the Penguins have the chance to start this season series out on the right foot.
Last year, the Penguins tied their one home contest against the Kings with fewer than 10 minutes left in regulation thanks to a power-play goal from Bryan Rust. But the even score didn’t stand for long, and the Penguins couldn’t keep Trevor Moore from scoring his second goal of the night and claiming the win for Los Angeles.
That loss means the Penguins haven’t beaten the Kings since a 5-4 shootout win on December 14, 2019. They’ll look to see if they can update that stat during this third home game of the season.
Former Penguin connection: Former Penguins defenseman Olli Maatta, who spent the last two seasons in Los Angeles, won’t be here— he is now a member of the Detroit Red Wings, and will return to PPG Paints on December 28.
Pittsburgh Penguins @ Columbus Blue Jackets
Saturday, October 22 at 7pm
2021-22 record: 4-0-0 (5-2 road win, 1/21; 3-2 road win, 2/27; 5-3 home win, 3/22; 5-3 home win, 4/29)
2021-22 summary: The Blue Jackets were the Penguins’ only in-conference season sweep, and three of those four wins featured five-goal performances from Pittsburgh. Whether it was starting the contest with three goals in three minutes, like on April 29, or scoring four in a single period, like on March 22, the Penguins were uniquely dominant against this team in 2021-22.
But Columbus went through an offseason transformation, including the notable arrival of Johnny Gaudreau, who ranked second only to Connor McDavid with a whopping 115 points in 82 games for Calgary last season. That addition alone will make this team much tougher to handle than last season.
Former Penguin connection: Like Ian Cole, former Pittsburgh defenseman Erik Gudbranson has bounced from team to team after the past few years, stopping by Anaheim, Ottawa, Nashville and Calgary since he was traded in 2019. The Penguins will be seeing him in a Columbus sweater for this first time during this Saturday road game.