Penguins & Thanksgiving Eve: A Holiday Tradition

American Thanksgiving falls on the fourth Thursday of November and ushers in the holiday season, bringing with it a myriad of made-up, lesser celebrations like Black Friday and Cyber Monday. Since 2014, the night before ThanksgivingThanksgiving Evehas been coined Blackout Wednesday for its connection to excessive drinking and partying. Perhaps Thanksgiving Eve should be renamed Black and Gold Wednesday for its link to the Pittsburgh Penguins as well.

Thanksgiving Eve Statistics

The Penguins have played 45 games on Thanksgiving Eve in 51 seasons and will continue the tradition this year when they face off against the Dallas Stars on Nov. 21. The Penguins have missed just three potential Thanksgiving Eve games since they joined the league in 1967-68. The other three seasons (1994-95, 2004-05, 2012-13) had no games in November, as they were shortened or canceled due to a lockout.

The club boasts an all-time Thanksgiving Eve record of 22-17-6 that includes three overtime games (two wins, one loss) and two shootouts (one win, one loss). A 48.9 win percentage in Thanksgiving Eve games could be an encouraging statistic for a Penguins squad that has been struggling to grab points and string wins together in the month of November so far.

Sidney Crosby Pittsburgh Penguins
Sidney Crosby, Pittsburgh Penguins, Nov. 10, 2018 (Courtesy Canadian Press)

More surprising, though, than the number of games played or a winning record is the number of Thanksgiving Eve games the Penguins have played on home ice. Thirty-nine of the matchups have been played at the Civic/Mellon Arena and CONSOL Energy Center/PPG Paints Arena, and this year’s contest with the Stars will make it an even 40. The Penguins have been struggling at home this season, going 3-5-1 since the home opener, and 1-3-0 in November, so a Thanksgiving Eve win on home ice could boost not only the team’s statistics and point total, but also the players’ and coaches’ confidence to command the home rink.

Interestingly enough, in 2017, the Chicago Tribune reported that NHL playoff rankings as they stand by American Thanksgiving are one of the biggest predictors of who will be taking a run for Lord Stanley’s Cup in April. According to Steve Rosenbloom:

“It might sound silly with the season only about 25 percent completed, but for the last decade or so, the trend has held that more than 75 percent of the teams sitting at the postseason table on that notable Thursday will eat in April,” (from ‘NHL history shows if you’re not in position by Thanksgiving, you may go hungry at playoff time’, Chicago Tribune – 11/21/17).

Aside from points, numbers mean nothing come playoff time, but if these statistics turn out to be true, the Penguins will be hitting the golf course early this year, as they’ve dropped to the bottom of both the Metropolitan Division and the Eastern Conference in the standings.

Memories of Thanksgivings Past

Some memorable moments in Penguins history have occurred during Thanksgiving Eve matchups. From comeback wins to setting records and honoring legends, these pre-holiday games are nothing short of entertaining.

A Comeback for the Ages

On Nov. 27, 2013, the Penguins spent most of the first and second periods of their 300th consecutive sellout being outplayed and embarrassed by the visiting Toronto Maple Leafs. Nothing was going Pittsburgh’s way. Defenseman Paul Martin left the game with a tibia fracture, starting goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury was pulled early in the second period and replaced with rookie Jeff Zatkoff, and the Penguins were down 5-3 going into the last frame.

Jeff Zatkoff, Pittsburgh Penguins
Jeff Zatkoff, Pittsburgh Penguins (Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports)

The Penguins woke up and battled back. Forward James Neal scored his sixth goal in five games early in the third, and Malkin scored minutes later by setting up shop in front of the crease and pushing a puck under sprawling Leafs’ goaltender Jonathan Bernier. The Penguins held Toronto without a shot for the final 25 minutes to force overtime and then a shootout. Zatkoff stopped both Toronto skaters and the Penguins made all of their shootout goals to grab a 6-5 victory.

When asked about his team’s performance that night, Sidney Crosby said:

“Give everyone credit for sticking with it, because that first 25 minutes is as ugly as it gets.”

Goals Galore

The Penguins and St. Louis Blues contest on Nov. 22, 1972, became one for the record books. The Penguins won by a score of 10-4, the highest number of goals scored by Pittsburgh in a game to that point in their six-year existence. Twelve different Penguins put up at least one point on the night, and the two teams combined for 61 penalty minutes, with 14 of the game’s 18 penalties coming in the first period. But the real record was set in the third when the Penguins scored seven unanswered goals, the most scored by Pittsburgh in one period. That record was broken on Dec. 17, 1991, in a 10-2 win against the San Jose Sharks that saw the Penguins scored eight goals in the second period.

Jean Pronovost
Jean Pronovost contributed a point in the Penguins’ 10-4 thrashing of the Toronto Maple Leafs on Thanksgiving Eve 1972.

Coffey Steps Up

Paul Coffey made his way to Pittsburgh via trade with the Edmonton Oilers on Nov. 24, 1987. The Penguins were struggling, posting a 7-10-4 record going into their 22nd game of the season, a Thanksgiving Eve showdown with a closely matched Quebec Nordiqes team. The game was Coffey’s first as a Penguin and his first of the 1987-88 season. He sat out the first 21 games in Edmonton due to a contract dispute.

Paul Coffey, Edmonton Oilers
Paul Coffey sat out the first 21 games of the 1987-88 season due to a contract dispute. (

Midway through the game, it appeared the Penguins were going to be in for another thrashing, down 4-0. Coffey made his presence felt in the second half of the game, assisting on three power-play goals in the Penguins streak of six unanswered tallies. After the game, general manager Eddie Johnston said:

“Our fans were on their feet every time Coffey touched the puck. He brings a dimension to our team like Orr did to the Bruins. He skates so well that it opens up ice for everyone else.”

“It’s a Great Day for Hockey”

The most solemn but most memorable moment in Penguins Thanksgiving Eve history came on Nov. 27, 1991. The night before, legendary Penguins coach “Badger” Bob Johnson passed away from brain cancer in Colorado at the age of 60. As a tribute to the team’s first Stanley Cup-winning coach, fans were given battery-operated candles, the arena lights were turned off, the song “Goodbye, My Friend,” played over the sound system and the ice at the Civic Arena bore the inscription, “It’s a Great Day for Hockey,” one of Badger’s favorite sayings.

The tribute touched fans, who knew Badger Bob through the media, and players, who knew Badger Bob as a great coach, and an even better man. In the book Tales from the Pittsburgh Penguins Locker Room, Penguins’ right winger Joe Mullen told author Joe Starkey:

“I’ll always remember that night, with the lights out and the candles lit. I knew hockey was going to miss Badger very much.”

The Penguins capped off the memorial with an 8-4 win against the New Jersey Devils, another pinpoint in the roadmap on the way to their second consecutive Stanley Cup victory.