After a couple of ugly home losses the Pittsburgh Penguins took out some frustrations this weekend on a bad San Jose Sharks team, beating them by a 10-2 margin.
It was the classic “get right” game where almost everybody involved was able to pad their stats a little bit (except for Rickard Rakell, who still can not buy a goal this season). As satisfying as that game might have been for Penguins fans and the Penguins themselves, it is still only one game, it was still against what might be an all-time bad team, and they are still 4-6-0 on the season and needing to climb out of this early season hole.
It is a start.
But it is just a start.
The Penguins have to build on that start this week as they continue their West Coast road trip before returning home later in the week.
The trip continues on Tuesday night in Anaheim with a rematch against the Ducks.
The Penguins just saw Anaheim on home ice a little less than a week ago and watched what looked to be a great shot at two points turn into one of the most frustrating and improbable losses you could ever imagine.
They get a chance to even the score on the road.
It will not be easy.
Even though the Ducks are still very much a rebuilding team with some significant flaws on paper, they are playing some outstanding hockey right now and will be entering Tuesday’s game on a six-game winning streak. That winning streak not only includes the previous win over the Penguins, it also includes wins over Boston and Vegas, the latter of which ended the Golden Knights’ season-opening point streak at 12 consecutive games.
Anaheim won that game by scoring four unanswered goals.
The Ducks boast one of the league’s most productive offensive lines this season with Mason McTavish playing between veterans Ryan Strome and Frank Vatrano. McTavish was one of the difference-makers in the game in Pittsburgh.
The road trip continues on Thursday when the Penguins play at the Los Angeles Kings against one of the Western Conference’s best teams.
The key here is going to be the fact the Penguins are going to have the schedule advantage.
Not only will the Kings be playing on the road on Wednesday night, while the Penguins are sitting in Los Angeles resting, they will be playing the NHL’s best team (and reigning Stanley Cup champion) the Vegas Golden Knights.
That will help.
But even with that schedule advantage the Kings are no joke. They defend and drive possession as well as any team in the league, and have a couple of lines that are absolutely dominating teams.
The best of those lines is the trio of Anze Kopitar, Adrian Kempe and Quinton Byfield that has been one of the most productive lines in the league over the past two years. Kopitar is still one of the all-time great two-way players, while Kempe has blossomed into a top-line scorer in recent years. Byfield, a former No. 2 overall pick that has yet to take his star turn, has also seemingly found a role with this group and is starting what might be a breakout season.
As good as the Kings’ roster is they still have some major goaltending questions the Penguins might be able to exploit, especially by catching the Kings on the second half of a back-to-back situation.
The Penguins close the week on Saturday by returning home to play the Buffalo Sabres.
It is another situation where the Penguins are getting a schedule advantage.
Even though it will be their first game back after a West Coast road trip, they still do not play on Friday night. The Sabres do (against a good Minnesota Wild team) and will have to travel to Pittsburgh after the game.
Buffalo has high expectations this season thanks to its impressive core of young talent at both forward and on defense, but the early results have not yet been there. Especially when it comes to its ability to defend and prevent goals. There is still some serious offensive talent here that will need to be contained.
Given the scheduling edge the Penguins have this week, as well as the fact they are only playing one team that made the playoffs a year ago, they should be expecting to get at least four points out of these three games. That is also a pretty close to a must given their current place in the standings and how slow this start has been this season.