It has not been a particularly strong stretch of hockey for the Pittsburgh Penguins.
They enter the week on a four-game losing streak, have lost nine of their past 12 games and have one of the league’s lowest scoring offenses with one of its worst power plays.
The Penguins have not scored a power play goal in more than a calendar month, have just six goals total during its current losing streak, and have failed to score more than one goal in each of the past three games. It has been a brutal stretch of hockey that has the Penguins sitting with an 11-12-3 record, well out of playoff spot in the Eastern Conference.
They are desperate for goals and wins.
Their next chance for both will come on Tuesday night when they open the week against a tougher-than-expected Arizona Coyotes team.
The Coyotes have been one of the league’s biggest surprises, entering the week with a 13-11-2. It is the type of game where the Penguins should be able to get a win. Not only are they playing at home, they will be rested with three days off while the Coyotes will be playing the second half of a back-to-back after playing at Buffalo on Monday night.
It’s the type of game where two points should be considered a must.
Despite the schedule advantage, Arizona has a few things going for it this season that will make it a tough game.
The first could be the goalie. It will largely depend on who Arizona decides to start on Monday night in Buffalo, but the Coyotes boast one of the league’s hottest goalies in Connor Ingram as he enters the week with an 11-5-0 record and a .920 save percentage for the season. They are a different team when Karel Vejmelka plays, going just 2-6-2 with an .892 save percentage.
They also have a much improved group of skaters, led by veteran forward Clayton Keller who has become one of the top offensive players in the league. They have a solid group of veterans around him, improved their blue line and have a rising superstar in Pittsburgh native Logan Cooley to build around. It is a much-improved team and for the first time in more than a decade an interesting roster in Arizona. There is actually a light at the end of the tunnel for Coyotes fans.
After playing at home against Arizona on Tuesday, the Penguins play their own version of a back-to-back and go on the road Wednesday night for a game in Montreal against the Canadiens.
The Canadiens were one of the bottom teams that gave the Penguins fits a year ago to keep them out of the playoffs, going 0-1-2 against them. Even winning one of those games would have put them in the playoffs. The Canadiens enter the week 12-13-3 and have at least been somewhat competitive this season as their rebuild continues.
Cole Caufield and Nick Suzuki are the key cornerstones at forward and are both having strong seasons, while former Penguins defenseman Mike Matheson is having an outstanding year offensively.
They are also getting strong goaltending from both Sam Montembeault and Cayden Primeau.
It is another game that looks like it should be a win on paper, but the Penguins’ struggles combined with Montreal being rested and the Penguins traveling for for the second half of a back-to-back will make it tough.
The Penguins complete the week on Saturday night with another road game, this time in Toronto against the Maple Leafs.
The Penguins won the first meeting of the season in November in Pittsburgh, holding on for a 3-2 win. The Maple Leafs enter the week with a great record (14-6-4) but the process has not always been sound, and they do have some significant flaws as it relates to their scoring depth and injuries on defense.
What they do have going for them is still their top-four forwards (Auston Matthews, Mitch Marner, John Tavares and William Nylander), all of whom are having monster seasons offensively.
Toronto will be playing its fourth game in six nights on Saturday so the Penguins might be able to take advantage of that.
This would also be a good week for the Penguins to finally score a power play goal. The three penalty kill units they will face this week rank 14th, 16th and 30th in the NHL. Score some goals on the power play, get the offense going again, and maybe start getting back in the win column.
This is a week where at least four out of a possible six points needs to be a must at a minimum. They need to start collecting points or the season is going to begin slipping away even more than it already is. If it has not already completely slipped away from them.