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The week ahead: Penguins season reaching make-or-break point

They need wins and they need them now.

Winnipeg Jets v Pittsburgh Penguins Photo by Joe Sargent/NHLI via Getty Images

This past weekend was a pretty big hit for the Pittsburgh Penguins playoff chances. They did not earn a single point in their back-to-back against the Minnesota Wild and Winnipeg Jets, and have now won just three of their past 10 games. They enter the week nine points behind the Philadelphia Flyers for the third playoff spot in the Metropolitan Division and seven points behind the Detroit Red Wings for a Wild Card spot in the Eastern Conference.

They still have multiple games in hand on pretty much everybody they are chasing, with several head-to-head games remaining. Games in hand and head-to-head games do not necessarily mean wins in hand, or wins against the teams you are chasing. Even if the Penguins do take advantage of those situations, they still need to pick up some other wins along the way. That makes this stretch ahead as we get closer to the NHL Trade Deadline so important.

Starting this week the Penguins are entering a stretch of games where five of their next six games are at home. It begins on Wednesday night with a home game against the Florida Panthers.

The Panthers have won the first two meetings of the season, including a 3-2 shootout win a couple of weeks.

Florida is entering the week on a roll having won five of its past six and owning a 14-3-2 record in its previous 19 games. That has helped drive the Panthers toward the top of the league standings and give them one of the best records in the league. They have been one of the toughest teams to score against all season (second in the league in goals against per game) and since the start of January have also seen their offense start to reach an elite level by averaging 3.69 goals per game. Matthew Tkachuk is starting to score again, and Sam Reinhart — who seemingly owns the Penguins — has been one of the most productive power play forwards in the league.

That is going to be an incredibly tough game, and it will be followed the next night by a trip to Chicago to play the Blackhawks for another back-to-back situation.

That is a game the Penguins absolutely can not afford to lose.

They already lost one game to the Blackhawks this season, blowing a two-goal lead in the home opener. Losing games to teams like Chicago was one of the things that crushed their playoff hopes a year ago, and they can not afford to get swept in a season series against one of the league’s worst teams. Chicago has won just five of its past 26 games, with only one of those wins coming in regulation. The two points there are a must.

They return home on Sunday to play the Los Angeles Kings and retire Jaromir Jagr’s number for what should be an incredible evening at the arena.

The Kings have been struggling mightily since the first month of the season and have recently gone through a coaching change. This will also be a nice schedule game for the Penguins as they will be rested at home while the Kings will be playing the second half of a back-to-back, with both of them on the road. They will be in Boston on Saturday.

At least four points this week is a must. An absolute must. Chicago should be a win just given how bad the Blackhawks are, and getting a tired Kings team at home on Sunday — and especially on a big day for the franchise — should also be in their favor.

Anything less than that is really going to make an already uphill climb even tougher. It is also going to result in them starting to run out of time to get back into the playoff race and convince the front office not to sell.

General manager Kyle Dubas still seems to be unsure of how to handle this season, and he has already seemingly pushed back his All-Star break deadline on evaluating this team and determining what to do. The more they keep losing, the easier it is going to make the decision.

The biggest issue for the Penguins right now is simply a lack of offense, both on the power play and at even-strength. The power play struggles are well documented at this point, but they have scored more than three goals just twice in the past 15 games. In seven of those games they have scored two goals or less. Almost everything offensively is coming from the Sidney Crosby line, and if that line does not completely take over a game they have almost no chance of winning. Right now, they are not winning. That is going to have to rapidly change starting this week or the Penguins might find themselves in a situation they have not been in in two decades — selling.