After playing most of the first quarter of the 2022-23 NHL season on the road the Pittsburgh Penguins are finally getting a taste of some home cooking.
But that does not necessarily mean the schedule is going to get any easier over the next few games, and especially this week.
After already playing Toronto at home on Saturday, this homestand continues this week with Carolina, Vegas, and St. Louis all coming in through Saturday.
That is not going to be an easy stretch of games.
The good news? They at least get a break on the back-to-backs for a while.
But focusing on the matchups ahead here.
Carolina is an interesting team right now because they have hit a little bit of a slump in recent games, entering Tuesday’s matchup with a 3-4-4 record over their past 11 games, while also having a five-game losing streak thrown in. But this is still not a team to take lightly. The roster is still one of the best in the Eastern Conference, and their underlying numbers at 5-on-5 remain some of the best in the NHL. They are going to push the pace and get their opportunities.
Their big problem right now is one that seems to always plague them, especially come playoff time. Outside of their top couple of players they do not have many people that are capable of turning all of that possession into consistent offense. Andrei Svechnikov, Sebastian Aho, and Martin Necas are all having big seasons, but nobody else has been able to complement them offensively. They have to be especially disappointed with the fact that through the first quarter of the season they have only received six total goals from the quartet of Seth Jarvis, Teuvo Teravainen, Paul Stastny, and Jesperi Kotkaniemi. I know Teravainen has been hurt, but he still has zero goals in 14 games, while Stastny has zero in 21 games. Kotkaniemi, who is signed for another seven years after this, has just two goals.
After Carolina comes in, the Penguins get an even tougher challenge in the Vegas Golden Knights.
I admit, I thought Vegas had topped out and that last year’s down year was the sign of a fading team with awful management, but they have bounced back in a big way thanks to a healthy Jack Eichel and Logan Thompson playing like a really good starting goalie.
But like Carolina, they have cooled off a bit in recent weeks and are just 3-4-1 in their past eight games.
For a good as Carolina and Vegas are on paper, the Penguins might be catching them at the right time, while also getting some days off in between.
Then the Blues come in, and the Blues’ season has pretty much matched the Penguins’ season in terms of its peaks and valleys. They started off strong, had a massive losing streak, and have recently started to pick things up. The Blues are actually playing the best hockey at the moment of the three opponents coming in, and this is a very dangerous team even if it has not played to that level on a consistent basis so far.
They have a lot of talent up front, and have been one of the league’s best offensive teams the past two years.
They do have some shortcomings on defense, and I do not trust Jordan Binnington at all. He also seems to be kind of, how do I put this .... a jerk.
This is going to be a tough stretch of games, even with Carolina and Vegas slumping, and I certainly do not expect the Penguins to run the table on these three games.
But if they can get at least three point out of this, and set the stage to close off the homestand next week against Columbus, I think that is a fair and reasonable expectation.
The Penguins have played a brutal schedule so far in terms of road games and back-to-backs, and it should be a nice boost for the oldest team in the league to get a break from both of those things. Even if the schedule does get a little tougher in terms of quality of opponent in the short term.