What felt like a lifetime has finally ended, the Penguins bye week is over. We probably shouldn’t use “lifetimes” as a description of just 9 days considering the Penguins opponents tonight have full generations who have lived without seeing success. Out of respect for the 80% of Flyer fans who have never seen a championship team, sorry you suck. Tonight the Penguins pick up where they left off but in a different arena, completing the longest home-at-home series in the history of the league. To jog your memory, the Penguins went into Wells Fargo Arena on January 21st to complete an 11 game in 18 days start to the month. The team was lifeless and lost easily 3-0. For once a regular-season loss did not result in chaos.
Now the bye week is over. The literal midpoint of the season was 9 games ago, and the toughest 32 games lie ahead for this Penguins team that has been tested with attrition since training camp. The Penguins finish their January with the Flyers tonight, then travel to Washington for the first meeting of the year with the Caps on Sunday. After that game, the team has 4 days off because who in the hell makes this schedule anyway? February is mostly a month against the Atlantic division, except for the Capitals twice and the California road trip at the end of the month. In March, it’s all about the Metro. The team plays 16 games in March, 13 of them are against the Metro. That’s 26 points against the division.
The entire current scope of the standings in the Metro could completely change if any team, the Penguins included, have a bad spell of play during this month. As we enter today, there is no clear runaway in the division.
A good February could help gain crucial ground before the March Metro Madness begins, and that starts tonight with the Flyers. I know this is a Flyers gameday, but there isn’t a lot to say about them. They are like the Nigerian Prince in your inbox. They come up with different variations over the years but they are all scams.
A brief catchup on the injuries:
- Brian Dumoulin is still out following ankle tendon surgery. Dumoulin was injured 11/30 and had surgery 12/1. Dumo was given an “at least 8 week” timeline. The 8-week mark was last week and there has been little information about Dumo skating, which is no bueno
- Dominik Kahun is still out with a concussion but has started skating
- Nick Bjugstad is either dealing with a core muscle injury or is a secret spy attempting to stop Coronavirus from reaching Pittsburgh. Either could be true. Bjugstad has been out since 11/19, and is skating but that’s about it
- Jake Guentzel, get well dear.
Justin Schultz is not on the injury list because during the bye week Schultz was activated off of IR. Schultz is scheduled to rejoin the team tonight, making either Jusso Riikola or Chad Ruhwedel a scratch. Considering Ruhwedel is an RD, it will likely be him. The big question is will the team break up what has become a shutdown duo of John Marino and Marcus Pettersson? Prior to his injury, Schultz and Pettersson were the go-to 2nd pairing. In fact, the Pettersson-Schultz duo has the second most 5v5 time together at 306:33, only the Letang-Johnson pair has more time together at 311:46. Marino and Pettersson have been together for 280:22. The team didn’t use defensive pairings yesterday in practice, but perhaps the minor switch in the forward lines used give us a hint.
During line rushes yesterday Sullivan used the Malkin line as the top line and the Crosby line as the second. If he is planning on using a Riikola-Schultz pairing as a 2nd pair this makes sense. The Crosby line is more defensively aware and would help the weakest defensive pairing. Additionally, the Blueger line is a defensive blackhole. So having the Crosby line followed by the Blueger line ensures that defensive pairing has some extra help. Of course, he could’ve just done that for fun and I’m an idiot. Regardless, even though he isn’t a defensive stud, it is nice getting a regular NHL defender back in the Pens lineup.
It’s finally a hockey night in Pittsburgh. It’s a Friday night. You worked hard this last week because you didn’t have hockey to distract you. Sure, you could use that same work ethic today and impress your boss, but your boss isn’t even coming to the office today. Kick back. Muck it up int he comments below. Get your mind right. Take off early, hell, don’t come home from lunch. The Penguins are on your TV tonight baby, and they are gearing up for another run at history. See you there.