Ask any Penguins fan to summarize the Penguins first 53 games this season in just three words and they will most likely say: injuries, illness and trades. Well, there is a chance, a real chance, that this is the week that the Penguins put all of that behind them and just play hockey. Sure, Pascal Dupuis and Olli Maatta are still on the injured reserved, but the core 2014-15 Penguins and the new additions of David Perron and Maxim Lapierre should all be on the ice this week together and healthy for the first time in nearly four months. Combine the full lineup with the level of competition for the week and this should finally be the week that we all get to see who the 2014-15 Penguins really are.
Vs. Detroit – Wednesday Feb. 11 @ 8:00pm EST
The Penguins begin the week facing off against the Detroit Red Wings for this week’s version of Wednesday Night Rivalry. This should be a good matchup and revenge might be on the mind of Penguins players after their early season collapse to the Red Wings back in October. Few fans or Penguins players need to be reminded of the two goal lead blown by the Penguins during the last two and half minutes of regulation or the game winning overtime goal notched here by Justin Abdelkader.
These two clubs moved on from this early October matchup to compile excellent records this season. Detroit has surprised many with their 71 points so far this season and they have done so in convincing fashion. The Red Wings are currently ranked 6th in the NHL in goals per game and 5th in the league in goals against per game. Even more shocking to many is that they are 9-1-0 in their last ten games, all played without their star and starting goaltender Jimmy Howard. Howard should finally be back with the team on Wednesday night, but is slated to be the backup for the evening. Either way the Penguins will have a tough game on their hands, but it could get a little easier if forward Blake Comeau makes his first return to the ice since sustaining an injury in late December. Comeau would most likely return to the second line to play alongside Evgeni Malkin and Patric Hornqvist as before his injury he was developing excellent chemistry with Malkin.
@ Senators – Thursday Feb. 12 @ 7:30pm EST
While Ottawa may appear as simply a .500 opponent and a non-playoff team with their 51 points through 52 games, they have played their opponents tough all season, including the Penguins. Eight of their last twelve losses were one goal games which shows that the fight is not out of this team yet. Also, Penguins fans may remember the last meeting between these two clubs, a game in which the Penguins had to fight back from a 2-1 deficit and won the game on this Christian Erhoff blast.
This game will be tougher than many Penguins fans might like to admit and it does not help that the game is in Ottawa and played one day after facing an excellent Red Wings squad.
@ Chicago – Sunday Feb. 15 @ 12:30pm EST
This trip to Chicago will wrap up a week in which the Penguins played three teams who they already faced once this season and each game ended in dramatic one goal fashions. The Penguins just faced off against the Blackhawks right before the All-Star break and loss 3-2 in a shootout, after fighting back from an early 2-0 Chicago lead. Patrick Kane won the game on this nifty shot in the shootout and sent the Penguins into the All-Star break with four straight losses, two of them in OT.
There is little that needs to said about how good the Blackhawks are playing. They have had strong goal-tending from both Corey Crawford (2.25 goals against average, 1 shutout) and Antti Raanta (1.80 goals against average, 2 shutouts) this season. They have two of the leagues best defensemen in Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook, and another who is certainly not afraid to put his body in front of the puck in Niklas Hjalmarsson and two of the best offensive young talents in the game in Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews. There is little wonder why NBC chose this game for their Sunday afternoon nationally televised game.
So, this is the week ahead for the Penguins. Three tough games against opponents they have faced only one other time this season all of which were decided by one dramatic goal. The Penguins are finally relatively healthy and should be playing as a full unit for the first time since November. Penguins fans and the NHL should finally get to see how the Penguins come together after all the illness, injuries and trades and hopefully by the end of the week we should all be a little but closer to figuring out who these Penguins really are.