If you’re into countdowns, we’re out of triple digits and only 99 days away from the Pittsburgh Penguins’ regular season opener (Thursday October 13th, hosting Arizona).
From the team:
Last week the pre-season schedule was released as well. For about the millionth year in a row (possible exaggeration) the Pens will play the same three traditional, geographically friendly rivals, split across six exhibition games.
For the regular season schedule, here’s some standouts and early takeaways:
- The NHL season starts in Czechia on October 7th, with the Sharks and Predators playing the first of two games in Prague. In North America, action kicks off on Tuesday October 11th, with the Pens getting going a few days later.
- The Pens will be on the road early to start the season...A lot. They open with three of the first four games at home, but then play 12 of the following 15 games on the road, including a season-long five game road trip that includes Western Canada and Seattle at the end of October.
- The popular and traditional “almost-annual home game the night before Thanksgiving” is back on the schedule again, with Calgary coming to town. This will mark the seventh time since 2013 the Pens play at home the day before turkey day. It’s been a festive occasion too, Pittsburgh is 5-1 in the six games during this stretch on that day.
- The Pens have 16 weekend home dates, including 10 on Saturdays.
- Pittsburgh will be in Boston at the namesake stadium of their ownership group, Fenway Park, for a 2:00pm outdoor game against the Bruins on Monday, January 2nd for the Winter Classic. Traditionally the Winter Classic is on New Year’s Day, but 1/1 falls on a Sunday this year, and well, the NFL owns Sunday’s on the sporting calendar. Accordingly the NHL has bumped their game back a day to the federally observed holiday of 1/2, where they’ll hope people will not be working and ready for some outdoor hockey to have the afternoon for themselves.
- The Pens enjoy their “winter break” with a whole week off from January 29th - February 6th. This is probably the most important bullet point for the players, who probably already have this circled for their vacation time somewhere warm and sunny.
- It won’t be a full break for some, as the NHL All-Star weekend is February 3-4, but at least is in Miami this year (err, Sunrise...Whatever).
- Pittsburgh endures 15 sets of back-to-back games scattered throughout the schedule (up from 11 last season, where the Pens went a very respectable 13-5-4 in situations last year).
- The Pens play all Western teams two times, one in each venue home and away.
- Pittsburgh plays each Atlantic Division opponent three times a piece. This year will see Boston, Ottawa, Tampa and Toronto all make two trips to PPG Paints Arena. While Buffalo, Detroit, Florida and Montreal only will come to Pittsburgh one time in the regular season, with the Pens going to their respective cities for two away games.
- One good wrinkle about the above: the Pens have been absolutely dreadful playing in TD Garden recently (just 2-9-2 since 2015 when playing at the home of the Bruins). But as you might have picked up, the only game @BOS this year comes at Fenway Park at the Winter Classic. That means no regular season games for the Pens at TD Garden this year, in what has been a true house of horrors.
- One unfortunate aspect is that every NHL team plays all division teams four times, except for two opponents, which they only see three times. (Last year the Pens only played NYI and CAR 3x each, and the other five Metropolitan teams four times). In this year’s rotation, Pittsburgh is only playing Philadelphia and Washington three times a piece.
- That means only one game for Sidney Crosby to soak up the boos and light up the Flyers in Philly (the day after Thanksgiving on 11/25), with the Flyers visiting Pittsburgh twice in the season. The flip side of the coin means Alex Ovechkin and the Capitals only come to town just one time (3/25), with the Pens going down to DC twice.
- As usual, the season ends with a flourish of activity. March (15 games) is the busiest month of the season, and the Pens cap off the year with a frantic seven games in the first 13 days of April.
- Oddly enough, it won’t necessarily be the important matchups: just four of the last 13 games come against divisional opponents and the last two teams the Pens will host are out-of-conference foes.
Still sticks out that despite having 82 games, it shakes out this year that the Pens only play @PHI once, and Washington only comes to Pittsburgh a single time. That doesn’t feel right, but such is how the cookie crumbled this year for how to align 32 clubs that are playing an awkward 82 game schedule that doesn’t divide out evenly. For 2023-24, the Pens will see PHI and WSH four times again and another division opponent (two of NJD, NYR, CBJ) will cycle down to only three games against the Pens.
So there you have it, a full 82-game season where the NHL is lurching back towards it’s regular programming of a mid-October start and a finish to the regular season by mid-April. Free agency this year was bumped back to July 13, 2022, next year the hope and plan is to revert completely back to the normal and traditional July 1, 2023 start of the next league year.