If fans were in the building, the barn would rock with passion, excitement, and probably a little bit of blood lust. As the NHL and NHLPA put the icing on the cake to play the 2020-21 NHL season, the currently discussed iteration of the NHL schedule reportedly includes multi-game series against division opponents, but it may not be pretty for the Pittsburgh Penguins.
Put simply, to reduce travel the Penguins schedule would include three or four-game sets against the Washington Capitals, Philadelphia Flyers, New York Rangers, New York Islanders, New Jersey Devils, Boston Bruins, and Buffalo Sabres.
Here is the full report first filed by Adrian Dater for the Hockey Now network.
Forgive me for being excited by that prospect. The second of back-to-back games in a home-and-home series is always more physical. There will be intensely heated rivalries, scores to settle, and a game to win.
Now, imagine a four-game set in an already compressed, short season in which every game already means more. By the third or fourth game of these series, it will be an intense street fight. And, it will be like playoff hockey. In other words, it will be amazing.
However, the important question is: Can the Pittsburgh Penguins roster handle this type of schedule?
Several factors are working against the Penguins in this arrangement. However, the rosy optimists may not want to know the Penguins core’s age bracket will make them more susceptible to injury even if Sidney Crosby is in the best shape of his life (and a little birdie told us he’s been working out like a maniac, even by his standards).
“He wants to play until he’s at least 40,” a source familiar with his workouts mused.
But the trio of Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, and Kris Letang are still the chassis on which the Penguins are built. A bruising, intense regular season probably means extended and multiple absences for one or more of them.
The Pittsburgh Penguins led the league for most of last season with the significance of man-games lost. They were decimated, and it didn’t get better until after the pandemic pause.
The games’ emotions will bring about more physicality and a mixed bag for the Penguins. Gone are two of the most physical Penguins players. Patric Hornqvist is now skating with Florida Panthers after an offseason trade and Jack Johnson is collecting a paycheck from the Penguins but playing for the New York Rangers.
Against teams such as New York and Buffalo Sabres, the Penguins’ speed and grit should be advantageous.
However, against tougher teams such as the Boston Bruins, Washington Capitals, and New York Islanders, the Penguins will be the bug, not the windshield.
That’s not to report the Penguins can’t beat any of those teams, but it is to say after the series, the Penguins will need some time on the trainer’s table.
Adding to the Penguins challenges, they’ve won exactly one postgame game in the last two seasons. Needless to say, they have not excelled in physical, series-style games.
Lastly, working against the Penguins in this situation is depth. The Penguins are built to be a top-heavy team. Their top-six forwards are stacked, as is the top of the Penguins blue line. However, remove a piece or two from the top of the Penguins lineup, and the challenge will be even stiffer.
Jake Guentzel and Malkin carried the Penguins in Crosby’s absence last season. And you may say the Penguins could overcome such injuries again, but the difference is the Penguins played with more intensity than their opponents during those stretches last year.
With a compressed timeframe and the Penguins schedule resting on multi-game series, they won’t have the intensity advantage. So, a depleted Penguins lineup is unlikely to duplicate last season’s success.
It’s not going to be easy for anyone. For you and I, the intensity and hate built in the short series will be fun. Perhaps it will be fun for the players, too.
It just doesn’t necessarily benefit the Penguins.
In the coming days, we’ll compare the Penguins lines against the rest of the proposed new division.