Penguins’ schedule indicates that they could finish strong

4 Comments

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.

Video: AHL goalie Jonas Gustavsson scores his first career goal

Getty
1 Comment

He didn’t shoot, but Jonas Gustavsson still scored.

The former NHL netminder, now with the Bakersfield Condors in the AHL, scored his first career goal Friday, as part of his team’s victory over the San Diego Gulls.

From the AHL:

With San Diego goaltender Dustin Tokarski on the bench for an extra attacker and the Gulls working on a power play, Gustavsson made a save before an errant San Diego pass slid down the length of the ice and into the vacated net at 16:56 of the third period.

Gustavsson is the fifth AHL goaltender to be credited with a goal without actually shooting the puck into the opposition net. In addition to his goal, Gustavsson stopped 30 of 31 shots in the Condors victory.

Bolts and Islanders both win, which is bad news for Bruins

Getty
1 Comment

The New York Islanders and Tampa Bay Lightning each had to work overtime to decide their separate games, but when they ended, both clubs were victorious.

And that makes things even more interesting in the Eastern Conference wild card race.

With their shootout win in Pittsburgh, the Islanders tie the Bruins in points but take over the final playoff spot for now with fewer games played. The Lightning, despite an abundance of injuries all season, are just a point back of Boston and New York.

Nikita Kucherov scored the winner for Tampa Bay against the Red Wings. He’s up to 38 goals, which is second most in the league behind Sidney Crosby, currently at 42 goals.

Sellers leading up to the trade deadline, and without Steven Stamkos since the middle of November, the Lightning are in the thick of this race, even if others may have counted them out.

“Once again, people counted us out,” defenseman Victor Hedman told the Tampa Bay Times. “But we showed a lot of character. And we’re right back in it.”

The Bolts don’t play again until Monday, when they host the Chicago Blackhawks — only one of the hottest teams in the league.

Meanwhile, Saturday’s busy slate of games includes a showdown between the Bruins and Islanders. For Boston, it’s a chance for redemption after a particularly costly third period against Tampa Bay on Thursday.

What is wrong with the Sharks?

Getty
1 Comment

Not that long ago, the San Jose Sharks appeared well on their way to winning the Pacific Division title.

On March 14, they had a seven-point lead on both Anaheim and Calgary. Gone is that advantage. Not only have the Ducks surged back into the fight for the division, but the Sharks have lost five in a row and are having a terrible time of late creating any offense.

The Ducks defeated the Jets on Friday, moving into a tie with the Sharks at 91 points.

San Jose’s struggles hit a new low Friday with a 6-1 loss to the Dallas Stars, a team with its own flaws and nowhere close to a playoff position.

At one point midway through the second period, the Sharks trailed the Stars by four goals and had only six lousy shots on goal. During this skid, San Jose has scored only five goals.

Earlier this week, members of the Sharks said they weren’t terribly worried about this losing streak. The losses, they had said, were in close games, which is true: San Jose lost three consecutive one-goal games.

“When I look at the losing streak, we dominated some of those games for long periods and found ways to lose. You never like to lose, but I’m not that concerned,” Sharks coach Pete DeBoer told CSN Bay Area. “We’ve got to obviously end it. We’ve got to get healthy. I don’t see a bunch of symptoms of a team that can’t get this fixed pretty quickly.”

This, however, was a blowout. Adam Cracknell recorded the hat trick, pushing his single-season career-high in goals to 10.

The performance at one point forced DeBoer to take a timeout, in which he expressed his displeasure.

Making matters worse for the Sharks: Defenseman Marc-Edouard Vlasic left the game early in the third period and was put under further evaluation. He didn’t return.

The Sharks visit the Nashville Predators on Saturday.

Halak and the Islanders defeat Penguins, move into wild card spot

Getty
4 Comments

Quite a hockey game between the New York Islanders and Pittsburgh Penguins on Friday.

It offered plenty to enjoy — Phil Kessel‘s dominant but unfruitful shift in overtime, a combined 86 shots on goal between both teams, a showcase of skill from the likes of John Tavares and Sidney Crosby, and two strong goaltending performances from Jaroslav Halak and Marc-Andre Fleury.

Josh Ho-Sang, who wears No. 66, which is just fine in the eyes of Mario Lemieux, set up Brock Nelson‘s goal in the second period.

The Islanders and their fans probably aren’t hung up on style points at this juncture of the season. They just care about wins and points in the standings, and those are exactly what New York accomplished with a 4-3 shootout win in Pittsburgh.

Anthony Beauvillier and Tavares scored for the Islanders in the shootout. Halak made 37 stops, including a game-saver in overtime off Matt Cullen. Halak trapped the puck, which was right on the goal line, between his legs on a chance from in front. The play was reviewed but no goal.

The win gives the Islanders 82 points, which is the same total as the struggling Boston Bruins.

However, the Islanders, with one game in hand on the Bruins, take over the final wild card spot in the East for now.