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The week ahead: Some friends make returns to Pittsburgh

The Penguins need some wins and will have to beat some popular former players.

Chicago Blackhawks v Minnesota Wild Photo by Bruce Kluckhohn/NHLI via Getty Images

The Pittsburgh Penguins were having a pretty good week with back-to-back wins over the Arizona Coyotes and Montreal Canadiens to collect four important points. Then they played one of their worst games of the season — and probably their worst game — on Saturday night in Toronto when they were crushed 7-0 by the Maple Leafs.

The good news is they get to return home for five of their next seven games, including each of the next two games this week. It will be a big week for two big reasons. Not only because the Penguins desperately need more wins to keep their season from getting away from them, but also because of who is paying them a visit.

It all starts on Monday against the Minnesota Wild in what could be goalie Marc-Andre Fleury’s final game in Pittsburgh.

Fleury has made no official announcement on what his future is beyond this season, but there is speculation he could retire. He already gave a curtain call to a roaring ovation in Montreal earlier this season for what was thought to be his final game there, and now he gets the same in Pittsburgh where he played the bulk of his career.

It is not a given that Fleury will play, but he is sure to get an amazing ovation whether he does or not.

It would also make some sense for the Wild if they didn’t start him because another former Penguins goalie (or at least Penguins goalie prospect), Filip Gustavsson is playing lights out hockey coming into the week and it is the driving force behind the Wild’s recent turnaround. Minnesota was one of the biggest disappointments in the league at the start and some poor goaltending was behind it. Gustavsson masked a lot of flaws in Minnesota a season ago with his breakout season, and he was not doing that at the start. But since the end of November — and right around the time John Hynes took over for Dean Evason — he has been back on a roll.

He has won six of his past seven starts entering the week and has been downright dominant during that stretch.

If the Penguins have to see him it will not be easy.

The Wild are still waiting for some of their top forwards — like Kirill Kaprizov and Matt Boldy — to really get rolling this season, but Boldy has scored goals in three of his past four games entering the week. They may not be playing great at the moment, but there is a lot of talent here.

On Thursday the Penguins welcome another of their former stars back when Jordan Staal and the Carolina Hurricanes visit.

On paper the Hurricanes are still one of the best teams in the league, but they have not yet played up to that potential this season, and especially not lately. With losses in six of their past eight games (and with a game against Vegas on Tuesday that will also be tough) the Penguins might be catching them at the right time. Especially given their goaltending situation.

The Hurricanes offense has actually been one of the league’s best this season — an impressive accomplishment given that they have received just one goal from Andrei Svechnikov — and are being held back by their defense and goaltending. The latter has been a massive concern with none of the three goalies to appear in a game this season posting a save percentage higher than .894 on the season.

It would be a great time for the Penguins’ struggling offense to break out, and a great time for them to actually win a divisional game. After winning their first two Metropolitan Division games of the season the Penguins have gone on to lose each of their next five divisional games, including their first meeting against the Hurricanes in Raleigh earlier this season,

The Penguins then wrap up the week and go into the Holiday break on Saturday with a game at the Ottawa Senators.

The Senators have been another of the league’s most disappointing teams this season, and after entering the year with real playoff expectations find themselves at the bottom of the Eastern Conference with an 11-15-0 record entering the week. The game against the Penguins on Saturday will be Ottawa’s first game back at home following a massive five-game road trip.

Ottawa has an incredibly impressive top-six offensively led by young stars Tim Stutzle and Brady Tkachuk, but the scoring depth has not been good at all. They also do not have a true No. 1 goalie and have not exactly gotten a return on the Joonas Korpisalo signing.

The Penguins have managed to collect some points over the past two weeks thanks in large part to a few overtime losses and a couple of wins. But after laying an egg in Toronto on Saturday they desperately need a bounce back performance, need to keep stacking points by any means necessary and need to start getting their season back on track. With a couple of home games this week and some games against struggling or underachieving teams it would be a great way to go into the holiday break by stacking some more wins.

Getting at least four points seems like a must. Managing to put together a little winning streak and setting a good vibe for the post holiday break schedule would be a good way to start turning things around.