The Pittsburgh Penguins have been a team of streaks so far in the 2022-23 NHL season.
They went 4-0-1, then they lost seven games in a row, then they went 15-3-2, and now they have lost four in a row going 0-2-2 over the past four games coming out of the holiday break.
The past four games have not been particularly pretty.
They blew a third period lead against Carolina before losing another overtime game just before the holiday, they came out by getting absolutely dominated by a mediocre New York Islanders, had another embarrassing overtime loss where they blew a 4-0 lead to a very mediocre Detroit Red Wings team, and then could not get two big divisional points against a New Jersey Devils team that is trending in the wrong direction.
There have been some flaws during that stretch.
They have not done a great job protecting leads, they have had some breakdowns defensively, they still can not play in overtime, and they have had some coaching and usage problems.
But they need to shake that off this week to keep pace in a very competitive Metropolitan Division and Eastern Conference. It is not going to be particularly easy this week with games against Boston, and then another West Coast trip.
The Penguins open the week on Monday with the Winter Classic in Boston against the league best Bruins. The Penguins lost their only meeting of the season with Boston earlier in the year in another game where they allowed a multiple-goal lead to slip away. Now they have go to play in Boston where the Bruins are 17-0-3 and have yet to lose in regulation. But maybe a venue change will take away some of the Bruins’ home mojo. The Penguins have a spotty history with outdoor games, going 2-3 in their previous five with some bad luck happening in a few of them.
The Bruins are going to be a TOUGH challenge. They have only lost four games in regulation all season and do not really have a weakness at this point. Patrice Bergeron and David Krejci are back to give them an outstanding 1-2 punch at center, David Pastrnak and Brad Marhand are two of the best wingers in hockey, Charlie McAvoy is an elite all-around defenseman, and they are getting fantastic goaltending to back up all of that.
After playing in Boston the Penguins then go on the road with games at Vegas and Arizona.
The Golden Knights game is going to be another very big challenge against one of the Western Conference’s best teams. The Penguins did win the first meeting between the two teams, and it was one of their better showings of the season, The Golden Knights have been a little inconsistent over the past couple of weeks, going 6-5-1 in their previous 12 games entering the week and only winning one of their past three games.
It has been a great bounce back season overall for Vegas, with Logan Thompson solidifying their goaltending situation and Jack Eichel playing like they hoped when he has been in the lineup. That will be a tough game on the road.
After that, the Penguins make their first trip to Mullett Arena in Arizona where they play the Arizona Coyotes. The Coyotes are one of the youngest and worst teams in the league. Clayton Keller is having a big year, Shayne Gostisbehere looks like strong trade bait on defense, but other than that there is not much happening with that roster at the moment. It is a team that is very deep into a rebuild where collecting as many future and young assets as it can has been the priority for a few years now. They do have a promising future with some hope, while also having a very clear plan, but they will need some time before they can get there. That is a game the Penguins will want to win.
This is going to be a tough week for a team that has hit another lull in its season. They have to play two of the best teams in the league, on the road, including one in very unique conditions on Monday. Then after that they have to play a team that could be very easy to overlook in an obvious trap game.
Given how tight the Metropolitan Division and Eastern Conference standings are, as well as the Penguins’ recent slump, this is going to be a very big week. It will either push them further into the playoff bubble, or it will allow them to climb back up the standings and regain some confidence and swagger after doing such a great job to climb back up the standings over the previous two months.
The Penguins are still in a very solid position by points percentage and do have games in hand with teams like the New York Rangers, Washington Capitals, and New York Islanders. Games in hand though are not necessarily wins in hand. You still have to win those games. The Penguins need some more wins right now just to get back on track with things. If they can get at least three or four points this week that should be considered a very successful week for them given the schedule ahead right now.