For the first time this season (and probably for the first time ever), the Pittsburgh Penguins are hosting an opponent, the Philadelphia Flyers, for three games in a row. Not that seeing the Flyers in Pittsburgh for three of the next five nights is the worst thing in the world, especially when the Penguins have been very good at home this season and could probably use the boost, but weird shit continues to happen parallel to this most infamous of milestones. After all, the COVID-19 pandemic that led to this wonky schedule is celebrating one year of derailing life for pretty much everyone in some way, shape, or form.
Coincidentally, tonight will also mark the first home game for the Penguins with fans in the PPG Paints Arena since a 6-2 loss against the Carolina Hurricanes, 51 weeks ago on March 8 last year. The Paint Can’s announcer gave the official attendance that night as 18,548 people, making it another sellout for the Penguins despite their unconvincing performance the prior three seasons. Two nights later on March 10 the Penguins would take a 5-2 win over the New Jersey Devils.
Then on March 12, the NHL would suspend the 2019-20 regular season, a decision which eventually became permanent. The League did not resume games for another five months, and even then it was on the bubble enclaves of Toronto and Edmonton, and without fans in attendance.
It was yesterday that Pennsylvania Governor Tom Wolf, echoing the decisions of some other governors in the past few days, raised the limit of fans allowed at sporting events to 15% of capacity, which for PPG Paints Arena is 2,800. Questioning the timing or pragmatism of this decision is not without merit, but all we can do is see how it goes. Many states, including Pennsylvania, are and have been doing very well in terms of keeping infection cases low, as well as getting people immunized. This is the end goal of herd immunity: returning life to what it once was, or as close to it as is prudent given the circumstances.
(Check out this video, by the way. Things are weird.)
On that note, the Penguins would like to exact some revenge on the Flyers for the 0-2 start Pittsburgh was handed by the hands of the cross-state arch-nemesis. Philadelphia currently sits two points ahead of the Penguins for fourth place and the last playoff spot in the East Division playoffs.
This group of five has separated itself somewhat from the bottom three in the division, and in a shortened season the opportunities to make up ground are fewer. Therefore the Penguins will need to return to a consistent winning form if they don’t want to be disappointed come the second week of May.
One positive note for the Penguins is their forward balance. For years I was harping on the Penguins for being too top-heavy a team. For the time being, it appears that it is not the case:
It may not be surprising to see the Penguins, Flyers, Rangers, and Capitals all pretty close together, and don’t be fooled by the Devils and Sabres lurking not too far behind because they’re pretty bad. Not surprising to see the Bruins towards the top, but check out the Islanders in fifth!