When the week began we looked ahead to this three-game road trip, which was starting with the team on a seven-game losing streak, and set a goal for the week.
Get at least four points.
Asking for or expecting a three-game sweep on the road, especially with a back-to-back thrown in, was going to be expecting a lot and probably too much. But coming out of it with four points? In any combination? That would have a solid start to getting the ship turned around.
The Penguins started that path on Wednesday night with an impressive 4-1 win on the road in Washington. It was made even more impressive by the fact they played a part of that game with only three defensemen due to injuries and still managed to come through.
It was a much-needed win and a great start to what is going to be a tough week.
Now they get into the really tough part of it with a back-to-back in Toronto and Montreal.
The Maple Leafs have been all over the map so far this season, They have not looked like the Stanley Cup contender they are supposed to be, and are now down to their third-string goalie with Matt Murray and Ilya Samsonov both sidelined due to injuries. Despite all of that, they come into the game having won three of their past four games.
John Tavares has probably been their most consistent player this season, but Auston Matthews is finally starting to heat up after a slow start.
This is the Penguins’ first game with Toronto this season, but they faired extremely well in the three head-to-head meetings a year ago, winning by margins of 7-1 and 2-0.
The Penguins lost to Montreal in overtime earlier this season, but not only have the better roster on paper, have been a better 5-on-5 team so far. The problem is going to be the Penguins coming in on the second half of a back-to-back, on the road, against a Canadiens team that is going to be sitting at home waiting for them. Those are always tough games.
If the Penguins can get at least two points out of these next two games that would put them at 14 points through the first 15 games of the season. And while that is not an ideal number, or where they want to be (or where you want to see them be) it is not that far off from where they have been in recent years at the same point.
Keep in mind they were at 14 points after 15 games a year ago.
They were at 17 points in 2020-21, 17 points in 2019-20, and 17 points in 2018-19. They were at 18 points in 2017-18. So if they can get this split, they would only be about three points off their normal pace over the past few years.
And if they can somehow sweep this back-to-back, they would only a point off of that pace.
I still am not terribly worried about the Penguins, or the season as a whole right now. Just about every team in the league is sitting in the 12-18 point range with little separating them, and the Penguins’ 5-on-5 numbers still remain very strong and are right in line with the top teams in the league.
That, in the long run, is going to be the most important thing.
Right now the biggest issue is finding consistent goaltending and fixing the special teams.
Those two things took a big step on Wednesday in Washington with Casey DeSmith giving them his best start of the season, while the penalty kill had an especially strong night against a very good Capitals power play (the PK was 4-for-4 in that win while also scoring a shorthanded goal).
Get two (or maybe even three) points out of these next two games, start building some momentum and confidence, and start to get back on track when the schedule softens up a little and gives you some home games later this month and into December.
This thing can still get turned around quickly. But it has to start now.