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The week ahead: The struggle for consistency

The Pittsburgh Penguins simply can not string together wins.

Philadelphia Flyers v Pittsburgh Penguins Photo by Pamela Smith/Getty Images

If you want to be positive the Pittsburgh Penguins have earned at least a point in four consecutive games, collecting six out of a possible eight points over the past week. They beat two potential playoff teams in Toronto and Tampa Bay, and at least gained points in Nashville and against Philadelphia.

If you collect six out of every eight points over the course of a full season, you are going to win an awful lot of games and collect a lot of points.

It could be worse.

But the reality is not quite as good as that recent record.

The Penguins had to overcome two-goal deficits in Nashville and Tampa Bay and did not play particularly well in either game, and then got outplayed from start-to-finish in Saturday’s shootout loss to Philadelphia. It was probably one of the worst overall games of the season despite the close score and the near-victory. All of it also continued what has been an absolutely abysmal run by the power play that has seen the Penguins go nearly a full month without scoring a goal on the man advantage. The power play has scored five goals this season and given up three, including a shorthanded goal on Saturday that swung the game in Philadelphia’s favor.

They simply can not find any consistency in any aspect, and remain a .500 team going into the second quarter of the season.

They are also facing a brutally tough week ahead with a three-game road trip through Philadelphia, Tampa Bay and Florida.

The road trip starts on Monday (edit: I had my days mixed up. Forgive me) with a re-match against Philadelphia, this time in Philadelphia.

The Flyers have been one of the bigger surprises in the NHL this season and are far ahead of where anybody would have reasonably expected them to be. This is supposed to be a rebuilding team with an eye on the long-term future, but they are hanging around and playing extremely competitive hockey. The returns of Sean Couturier and Cam Atkinson have helped a lot, but players like Travis Konecny and Owen Tippett are also having big seasons while the team has defended extremely well.

They already outplayed the Penguins on Saturday. The shot totals ended up similar, but a lot of that happened as Penguins tried to tie the game in the final five minutes of regulation and then in overtime during the 3-on-3 period of hockey. Overall, though, the Flyers were by far and away the better team all night.

The Penguins can not afford to get outplayed by this team again.

The road trip then continues with two games in Florida, starting with a second game in Tampa Bay within a week.

The Penguins overcame a brutal first period — and an early 2-0 deficit — on Tuesday to earn a 4-2 win that was capped off by goalie Tristan Jarry’s first career goal in what has been one of the season’s early highlights.

The Lightning have hit a rut of their own right now and enter the week on a four-game losing streak — including the recent Penguins game — where they have scored just four total goals and are coming off an 8-1 loss to the Dallas Stars on Saturday. They have another game with Dallas before they play the Penguins so it is entirely possible that losing streak reaches five games.

This is not a particularly great Tampa Bay team, at least compared to what we have seen from the Lightning over the past decade. Even though the results are not great for them early on, there is still a ton of talent there that is capable of going off at any moment and beating you.

The Penguins complete the three-game road trip on Saturday with a game against the defending Eastern Conference champion Florida Panthers.

I was not a particularly big believer in the Panthers coming into the season, mainly because I figured they were going to be closer to the team that struggled to make the playoffs a year ago as opposed to the team that went on a crazy hot run after sneaking into the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

My belief was mainly centered around the fact I did not trust their defensive play or goaltending. But so far the defense and goaltending is what has kept them going as they enter the week eighth in the league in goals against and are getting strong goaltending from veteran Sergei Bobrovsky (.912 save percentage) and Anthony Stolarz (.917 save percentage).

It is actually the offense that has been a struggle (18th in the league in goals scored entering the week).

Sam Reinhart and Carter Verhaeghe are both having great years offensively, but Matthew Tkachuk has just four goals in 24 games while Aleksander Barkov has seven. Getting just 11 goals from that duo so far has to be considered a little disappointing, even if it is driven almost entirely by lower than normal shooting percentages.

Like Tampa Bay (and the Penguins) they have struggled with consistency recently and enter the week having lost four of six games while also having a game with the Dallas Stars just before playing the Penguins.

Overall this is another big and important week for the Penguins. They are a .500 team and going on the road for three very tough games — a divisional rivalry game and two straight games against playoff contenders. This is not going to be easy. Ideally the Penguins need to win two of these games to help get their season back on track. It is just really hard to imagine that happening right now given the way the team — and especially the power play — is playing at the moment.