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Can Penguins Roster Handle the Compressed, Series-Style Schedule?



Pittsburgh Penguins Evgeni Malkin celebrates with Kris Letang and Sidney Crosby

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.

No good.

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.

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Pittsburgh Hockey Now Editor-in-Chief, formerly 93.7 The Fan, Sportsnet Hockey Tonight, NHL Home Ice. Catch Dan tweeting @theDanKingerski and the official @pghhockeynow account.

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1 year ago

After reading the article, I now think they should target Haula. He is the best fit for the pens, a proven upgrade from Jankowski and he is a much better option to fill in on the second line. I believe that he can be had for ~1.5MM (the cap tables are really bad for half the league and rely tight for most of the other teams) and with a little juggling can fit in under the cap. Dan, have you looked at some of the RFAs not signed yet. Some teams are going to really struggle signing them. Is there… Read more »

Rich Filardi
Rich Filardi
1 year ago

Need a strong 3rd line center, if you know anything about the pens over the years, they have hard times with keeping key guys on the ice. Short and condensed season just extrapolates this as well as just some guys may wear down and become less effective.

Last edited 1 year ago by Rich Filardi
1 year ago

I am not really sure about any December conclusions about any team for the upcoming “season.” Maybe the season does not suit the Penguin team . . . but I am not so sure playing a compressed schedule does much for teams that play a physical style either. This does not even take into consideration the high likelihood that players will be in and out of the line up due to COVID or that games will almost certainly be cancelled and rescheduled as a precaution. Even player movement is going to be impacted. When a player is moved from team… Read more »