If the Pittsburgh Penguins are going to really get their season back on track, this is the weekend for it to happen.
Yes, it is another three-game road trip with another set of back-to-backs, but it still presents a great opportunity given the matchups.
The Penguins already won the first game of this road trip in Minnesota on Thursday with a balanced offensive attacke, and will wrap it up Saturday and Sunday with a back-to-back in Winnipeg and Chicago.
While it might be expecting a lot to expect a 3-0 road trip and sweeping another back-to-back with travel, these are two very winnable hockey games.
The Jets have one of the best records in the NHL going into the game (and have been on a roll lately), but a lot of their success is driven by the goaltending of Connor Hellebuyck.
When it comes to 5-on-5 play, the Penguins have a pretty significant edge over both teams as the Jets and Blackhawks are near the bottom of the league in terms of expected goals, scoring chances, and high-danger chances during even-strength play.
The Penguins, for all of their flaws so far, have actually carried most games at even-strength and have strong overall numbers for the season and have started to see some small improvement with their special teams. Especially on the penalty kill where the Penguins are 88 percent over the past five games.
There is always the chance of Hellebuyck stealing a game, but I like these matchups. The Jets’ have some high end forwards, but their depth is thin and their defense does not really have any major impact players. Their early record seems to be more smoke and mirrors than anything else and the whole operation seems like a house of cards ready to collapse. In short: I am not buying what they are selling right now.
The Blackhawks, on the other hand, are just plain bad. Even if it is the second half of a back-to-back and on the road this is not a game you should lose. Chicago had a four-game winning streak earlier in the year but has just one regulation win (and only two wins overall) its past 10 games and is progressively getting worse. The roster is as bad as any roster in the league and there is not any one area where they excel.
These are the types of games you have to win. Especially with a tough home schedule on the horizon after this road trip ends.
Which brings us to the potential of what two wins here could mean.
First of all, it would put the Penguins at 9-7-3 for the season. That would be 21 points in 19 games, which would be right in line with what we normally see from them at this point of the season.
It would also continue what has been a pretty decent stretch of hockey coming out of that ugly seven-game losing streak.
If they can get these four points this weekend they would be 5-1-1 over a seven-game stretch, which would certainly go a long way toward changing the current narrative of where the Penguins are.
It would also start to bury the bitter taste of that seven-game losing streak.