Gameday 75: Back-to-Back Back-to-Backs!

Tonight the Pittsburgh Penguins turn the clock all the way back to…last March, as they start a double-header of back-to-backs which would never have happened in the first place if not for the COVID-19 pandemic, first against the New York Islanders and then against the Boston Bruins. This exact same setup occurred between March 27 and April 3 last season, and it was a good stretch for the Penguins as they took three out of four in the quad, losing the last game against the Bruins 7-4. The Penguins and Islanders have played each other just once this season, with Pittsburgh taking a 1-0 win on Black Friday this past November.


The Penguins broke their first four-game losing streak of the season on Sunday afternoon with a 3-2 overtime win against the Nashville Predators. Stop me if you’ve heard this before, but the top line once again carried the mail for the Pittsburgh, with Sidney Crosby notching two goals (including the game-winner) and adding another primary assist on Jason Zucker’s first goal of the season LOL nope, his seventh of the season and his first since returning to the lineup for good (we hope). Head coach Mike Sullivan found a good combination with Crosby and Rickard Rakell, which is fine, but…the secondary scoring still needs to show up. The last time Pittsburgh won a game while getting secondary scoring was the 11-2 thrashing of the Detroit Red Wings two weeks ago. Since then, the bottom of the depth chart hasn’t produced in a winning effort, and the Penguins have just two other wins to go with five losses after that.


Pittsburgh is now at risk of dropping into a Wild Card seed for the playoffs, a pitiful descent for a team that back in January seemed to be a serious challenger for the top seed in the Metropolitan Division. Since January 27, when the Penguins’ six-game winning streak ended with a 2-1 overtime loss against the Seattle Kraken, Pittsburgh tied with the Washington Capitals with 35 points in the standings, a mediocre 15-12-5 record that was 17th in the League and fifth in the Metro Division. It’s nine fewer points than the Carolina Hurricanes, five fewer than the New York Rangers, and even four less than the Islanders, who are fifteen points behind the Capitals in fifth place in the division. But the point ultimately is that Pittsburgh failed to keep up with the Hurricanes and Rangers, and, if not for the selfsame mediocrity as the Penguins, the Capitals might have eclipsed them by now. As it is, just four points separate Pittsburgh and Washington and, oh hey, the Capitals have played two fewer games than the Penguins. Great!


All that being said, it looks like Pittsburgh will be having to make do without the services of Evgeni Malkin, just three points behind Bryan Rust and Jake Guentzel for second on the team since January 27, who will reportedly be suspended for four games after rearranging Nashville’s Mark Borowiecki’s face.

Obviously not a great time to be losing your definite #2 center, nor to be putting more pressure on your #1 center who is already leading the team in points and particularly so in the aforementioned timeframe. The only silver lining I can see is that giving Geno 11 days to rest and refocus could be a boon for the Penguins in the postseason, assuming the playoffs are a certainty. And if we can avoid Geno even further losing his cool against two annoying teams, the Islanders and Bruins, that’s a small plus. I just wish I was more confident that the rest of the team will step up. Taking three out of the next four games like last year would be fantastic for motivation heading into the last week of the regular season.