In a weird bit of scheduling, the Pittsburgh Penguins will play back to back home-and-home games with their two most hated rivals this week: The Washington Capitals and the Philadelphia Flyers.
The Pens travel to Washington D.C Monday to face Alexander Ovechkin and company at the Verizon Center before turning around and playing a second game on Tuesday at Consol Energy Center in Pittsburgh.
After a three day break , the Pens will head east to take on Philadelphia on Saturday, before flying back to Pittsburgh for the second game against the Flyers Sunday afternoon.
It’s a tough four-game stretch for Pittsburgh, and one that could have serious implications on the rest of the season.
Since the trade deadline, Pittsburgh has looked inconsistent on both sides of the puck. After losing a 5-3 debacle in San Jose that saw captain Sidney Crosby finish with a -5 rating, Pittsburgh turned around and took a decisive 3-2 shootout win over Anaheim, despite being outshot significantly by the Ducks.
Injuries and a weak bottom-six have slowed Pittsburgh’s high-flying offense, leading many to question their status as an elite Cup-contender.
Nevertheless, it’s gut check time for the Penguins.
Rivalry games are always huge, but when you play your two biggest rivals four games in a row, the chemistry and feel of your team is often significantly impacted by how the games turn out.
And that’s what we’ve got with Pittsburgh right now. If Crosby and Evgeni Malkin can get hot and carry the team offensively, Pittsburgh stands a chance against Washington and Philly teams that have been inconsistent themselves this year.
However, if they lose their cool and get sucked into playing a chippy, rough, grinding game with either squad, a meltdown like we saw in the 2012 playoffs is likely to rear it’s head again.
Either way, these next four games could make or break the rest of Pittsburgh’s season.