Even with a clunker of a game in Florida on Saturday night, the Pittsburgh Penguins still had a pretty decent three-game road trip and managed to string together four wins in five games overall. That game on Saturday meant far more to the Panthers than it did to the Penguins, so I am not going to get up in arms about dropping that game after winning four in a row.
The biggest complaint is that like the two recent games against the New York Islanders, the Penguins did have a chance to potentially bury a playoff contender and put some serious distance between them. At least you could say they played well against the Islanders in those two games and were undone by goaltending (we have seen that movie before), but Saturday’s game was just a top-to-bottom dud. Time to most past it and focus on what is ahead.
What is ahead this week is an opportunity to collect some serious points before the schedule really turns tough and important.
It is also starting a five-game homestand that you probably want to take advantage of it.
When it comes to the immediate week ahead, two of their next three games are against two of the worst teams in the league in the Columbus Blue Jackets and Philadelphia Flyers. Given where those teams are in the standings, given that the Penguins are at home, and given what is at stake for the Penguins those are points you can NOT lose. Sandwiched in between those games is another monster game against the Islanders. That presents another opportunity to help really put them behind you. While the Penguins and Islanders are in a back-and-forth in the standings for the top Wild Card spot, the Penguins still have a pretty substantial points percentage edge due to their several games in hand. It would also significantly help the cause if they simply beat the Islanders in a head-to-head meeting.
If they can repeat their effort from the two recent games, I like their chances, especially with a healthy Tristan Jarry in net.
The Penguins have a two-week stretch coming up where they play the New York Rangers three times, with a couple of games against Colorado, Dallas and a rising Ottawa team mixed in. They are not going to win all of those games. They will probably lose a couple of them. Maybe a few. That makes games against teams like Columbus and Philadelphia absolute must-have wins. The Penguins still have 11 games against non-playoff teams remaining on their schedule and they need to feast on those to help maintain their playoff spot.
Columbus and Philadelphia are both struggling in recent weeks, and despite the recent losses to them I still strongly believe the Penguins are a better team than the Islanders. Especially with Mathew Barzal sidelined. At least four points this week over the next three games is the absolute bare minimum, and while I hate to expect a three-game winning streak they probably should get six points. That would set the stage for an epic week of games against the Rangers where they might actually be able to gain some ground on them for the third spot in the Metropolitan Division.
Even with Saturday’s loss the Penguins have been playing better hockey over the past two weeks. It helped put them back into a playoff spot and erase the stench of that ugly four-game losing streak. They need to continue that surge this week with a very favorable schedule.
The opportunity is there. They need to feast on it. Especially when that first Rangers game is the second half of a back-to-back. Beat the teams you are supposed to beat and try to at least split the rest. That should get you in the playoffs.