The Pittsburgh Penguins got their first big test of the season this past week when they played three excellent teams at home with Dallas, Colorado and Ottawa all coming through Pittsburgh.
They did not exactly pass it, losing two out of the three games in regulation.
This week the schedule gets a lot easier and there should be no real excuses to not take advantage of it.
They also need to take advantage of it.
The Penguins open the week on Monday as they close out their current four-game homestand against the Anaheim Ducks. Anaheim is still going through its rebuilding phase but has shown a lot of improvement so far this season, especially offensively. They have a strong core of young forward talent led by Trevor Zegras, Troy Terry and Mason McTavish, along with 2023 No. 2 overall Leo Carlsson. But it is a couple of veterans in Ryan Strome and Frank Vatrano that are carrying the offense so far as they have combined for 10 goals and 19 total points through their first eight games. There will be some challenges for the Penguins defense in stopping them.
Anaheim has split its goaltending duties between veteran John Gibson and Lukas Dostal. Gibson has historically struggled against the Penguins, and especially in Pittsburgh. Both goalies have received four starts this season, with Dostal having the better returns.
After playing Anaheim on Monday the Penguins will go on the road for a brief west coast trip that will include games in San Jose, Anaheim and Los Angeles.
San Jose is the game that absolutely needs to be two points. It will certainly be a big game there as defenseman Erik Karlsson makes his first return since the trade, but that Sharks roster is not only the worst one in the league the team on the ice has also been the worst in the NHL so far.
They were a terrible team a year ago with Karlsson having an historically great season, and no longer have that aspect this year. That is a game that needs to be two points under any circumstances, but especially with how much the Penguins have struggled so far this season early on. They need to start stacking some wins and this is the week to do that with the next three games being against rebuilding and potential lottery teams.
It also needs to be a week for the Penguins power play to finally start showing something.
Neither Anaheim or San Jose have strong penalty kills or great goaltending situations, and the Penguins’ top power play unit needs to do something to show that it can take over a game. Too often this season — and especially this week — it has been a negative in games and swung momentum away from them. They still only have two power play goals on the season, and they both came from Sidney Crosby in the same game in Washington. That’s not good enough for this roster and the way it is constructed.
It would also be encouraging to see the new-look third line of Lars Eller, Radim Zohorna and Drew O’Connor continue its strong play. These are not terribly deep teams the Penguins will be playing and they should have an advantage when it comes to depth. If that line can continue to show something it would completely change the outlook for the season.
Finally, the Penguins need to see some consistency from starting goalie Tristan Jarry.
He was outstanding against Colorado in shutting out a Stanley Cup contender, but followed that up by allowing three goals on nine shots against Ottawa. The consistency has always been the problem for him and the Penguins need to see that they can count on him. Especially with Alex Nedeljkovic sidelined behind him.
It is always a big ask to expect a team to win three games in a row, but these next three games against Anaheim (twice) and San Jose are a string of games that not only should be wins, they probably need to be wins.
Anything less than five points out of those three games would probably be a disappointment.