Penguins’ schedule indicates that they could finish strong

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With the 2011-12 season rapidly approaching, the gang at PHT decided to take a look at all 30 NHL teams’ schedules. Each team’s highs and lows will be studied in detail to give you an idea of what the future might hold for each squad.

Note: Mileage figures via On the Forecheck’s “Super Schedule.”

Pittsburgh Penguins schedule analysis

Total mileage: 33,439 (fourth lowest in the NHL, third highest in the Atlantic Division)

Back-to-back games: 15

Toughest stretches

The Penguins schedule starts off in remarkably balanced way. They play three games on the road, then three at home, followed by two away games and two games in Pittsburgh and then they alternate solo games. That seems fitting, since there aren’t a lot of marathon runs at home or away.

Generally speaking, though, the Penguins’ tougher part of the schedule comes in the first half.

Starting with a home-and-home with the Islanders in late October (Oct. 25 at the Islanders, Oct. 27 at home) the Penguins play seven of 10 games on the road. Late November is tough as well, as they play six of seven (including four in a row) away from Pittsburgh, with their sole home game coming against the defending champion Bruins on Dec. 5.

Again, the second half of the year should be more promising for Pittsburgh, but a late January/early February stretch could present one more hurdle. They’ll play five of six on the road, including four consecutive away games to begin February.

Easiest periods

The first strong run of games begins with a Dec. 13 home game against the Red Wings. The Penguins will play eight of 11 games at the Consol Energy Center during a run that bridges into 2012.

Pittsburgh could really being a lovely run in February, though. Beginning with a Feb. 21 game in which they host the Rangers, the Penguins will play three games at home, two on the road and then four more at home.

Don’t be surprised if they make a mad rush in the end of the season, either. The Penguins’ final 11 games look like this:

March 20: home vs. Winnipeg
March 22: home vs. Nashville
March 24: away vs. Ottawa
March 25: home vs. New Jersey
March 27: home vs. NY Islanders
March 29: away vs. NY Islanders
March 30: away vs. Buffalo
April 1: home vs. Philadelphia
April 3: away vs. Boston
April 5: home vs. NY Rangers
April 7: home vs. Philadelphia

Playing eight of their last 11 games at home is nice, but the context makes that closing set even better. They’ll play against division opponents six times, with just one of those contests being a road game. All but one of the 11 contests are against Eastern Conference teams, too, so they can gain ground with that end schedule.

Overall outlook

The Penguins’ schedule seems pretty balanced and manageable. Again, it seems like they’ll probably make their biggest gains in the last couple months of the season, especially in their final 11 games.

Like their Atlantic Division rivals, their travel schedule is relatively light and their back-to-back games total is reasonable. Ultimately, the Penguins have a lot of things up in the air, but their schedule shouldn’t be a reason to bet against them.

Lundqvist sharp, Rangers scrappy against Predators to end slump

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Is it melodramatic to say that the New York Rangers needed this one?

Whatever weight you put on it, the Rangers finally broke a troubling five-game losing streak, managing a 4-2 win against the Nashville Predators at Madison Square Garden on Saturday. The Predators saw a streak end in their own right, as they had been on a 4-0-1 run.

MORE: Rangers are still in for a steep climb in the Metro

As much as this was a confidence-booster, it was sometimes a sleepy afternoon effort by the Rangers. After generating a 2-0 lead in the first period, New York snoozed at times, only firing six shots on goal on Juuse Saros during the final 40 minutes.

Whether it came down to sitting on a lead or the Predators pressing on the gas, Henrik Lundqvist had to be alert at times in stopping 23 of 25 shots. One of his best efforts came in snubbing Colton Sissons in close:

In winning his 407th career regular-season game, Lundqvist tied Glenn Hall for ninth all-time in NHL history.

The Rangers were opportunistic on Saturday, a positive sign for a team that hasn’t always been getting the bounces early in 2017-18.

Kevin Hayes exerted his will at times, assisting on the Rangers’ opening goal and powering past Matt Irwin for what would stand as the game-winner:

Impressive stuff by Hayes, even if it was almost an equally lousy showing by Irwin.

Ryan Ellis is clearly missed by Nashville, but moments like Irwin’s lapse and Alexei Emelin flailing badly on the opening goal make one wonder why, exactly, Samuel Girard is getting more looks after some promising early showings. With Irwin and Yannick Weber logging less than 11 minutes on Saturday, both P.K. Subban (27:55) and Roman Josi (27:31) flirted with 28-minute workloads despite the contest ending in regulation.

The Predators likely cringed a little extra at the empty-net goal since it came via former Preds prospect Jimmy Vesey:

If the Rangers want to get back on track, they’ll need to win in a number of ways, even if they’re not always pretty ones like this one was.

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

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Seems like Laine, Jets are heating up

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Big breaks can be really nice for NHL teams, but sometimes you wonder if the timing is all wrong. It will be interesting to see if the Winnipeg Jets (and Patrik Laine) feel that way about their upcoming breather.

The Jets had really been cooking after shaking off a tough start from Steve Mason (the Jets dropped their first two games in ugly fashion). By edging the Minnesota Wild 4-3 on Friday, the Jets have now won four of their last five contests.

As you can see from the video above, Laine played a significant role in that win, showing that he might have some potential from “Alex Ovechkin‘s office” on Winnipeg’s power play. Laine doubled his 2017-18 goals total from two to four with that effort, pushing him to six points in seven games.

Laine was unleashing that lethal shot with aplomb last night, too, firing eight shots on goal.

(Last night’s edition of The Buzzer notes that it was a milestone night for Paul Maurice and Blake Wheeler. Along with grabbing that assist, Wheeler scored his 200th goal.)

The Jets have high hopes for 2017-18, and Laine’s a big part of that excitement, so it was nice to see him unleashed.

If it’s a matter of rhythm, then this break is a bummer. Their next game doesn’t take place until Thursday, making for almost a week off, just when they were really sizzling. It’s a tough haul for the next while, so maybe they’ll take advantage of the break (or get rusty?):

Thu, Oct 26 @ Pittsburgh
Fri, Oct 27 @ Columbus
Sun, Oct 29 vs Pittsburgh
Tue, Oct 31 @ Minnesota

November isn’t a breezy month for the Jets, either, so Winnipeg has to hope that they can carry over some of this momentum.

For more Jets-related fun, check out this interesting NHL.com piece about how Connor Hellebuyck is changing things up.

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

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Look at what Rangers are up against right now

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You have to really squint to find bright sides to look on if you’re the New York Rangers.

The Rangers are currently on a five-game losing streak and have one shabby win to show for their first eight games of 2017-18, and they’ll shortly face a challenge in the Nashville Predators, who are riding a five-game point streak (4-0-1 after losing their first two games).

With six of those eight games coming at home, the Rangers are really squandering opportunities in the malicious Metro. About the only positive things you can say boil down to: a) scrapping two “loser points” out of the past two games and b) the team at least saying the right things, as Rick Nash notes according to the New York Post’s Larry Brooks.

“The bad teams I’ve been on, guys get away from the game plan, they don’t give the effort and there’s finger-pointing, whether in the room between guys; from the coach; or in the media. That’s what happens when things get away from you as a team.

“None of that is happening here,” Nash said. “We’re together and we’re focusing on taking this one step at a time.”

They might be wise not to look at the divisional standings. Just consider some of the teams they’re up against:

Devils (12 points in 8 games): New Jersey currently has a perfect road record and a fleet of young legs, something the transitional Rangers must envy. Even if they’re likely to slip (being blanked by the Sharks could be an early sign of regression), the Devils figure to be a tougher out this season.

Penguins (11 points in 8 games): Not much needs to be said, though it’s worth noting that they’ve won three in a row.

Blue Jackets (10 points in 7 games): All signs point to former Rangers coach John Tortorella’s group being very much the threat that once surprised us.

Capitals (9 points in 8 games): Finding ways to win, and scrappy in particular on the road so far (3-1-1 away record).

Flyers (8 points in 7 games): Might be better than their record indicates, at least judging by their +9 goal differential. Philly has the potential to at least be a pesky “bubble” team.

Hurricanes (7 points in 5 games): Light early schedule might keep them under the radar, for now.

Islanders (7 points in 7 games): Mixed results might not help the Islanders retain John Tavares, but a competent Isles team would only make it tougher for the Rangers.

Yeesh, kind of discouraging, right?

The Rangers currently sit at four points in eight games played, and like this post argues, they really need to wake up soon. They’ve already played six home vs. two road contests, and they face a similar saturation of MSG going forward.

Counting today’s game hosting the rising Predators, the Rangers play the next three in a row at home. After that, they play three of four on the road, but then enjoy a three-game homestand.

So, by Nov. 11, they’ll have played 13 games at home and just five on the road.

One gets the sense that the seat is getting hotter for Alain Vigneault by the day. Fair or not, it might feel like it’s boiling if the Rangers are still a wreck in mid-November.

(If he still has a seat at the table, at all.)

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

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Devils fans help singer who forgot words to national anthem (Video)

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The biggest save of the night at Prudential Center on Friday didn’t come from either goaltender, but rather New Jersey Devils fans in attendance for their game against the San Jose Sharks.

Lauralie Mufute began singing the national anthem but midway through forgot the words. That’s when the crowd of 14,381 picked up where the 14-year-old left off and finished the song.

A great job by the crowd in what certainly was a terrifying moment for the young performer.

These flaps happen, as we’ve seen many times before in different situations. It’s always good to know the crowd can act as backup singers in times of need.

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Sean Leahy is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy.