With a suspension to winger Matt Cooke looming, the East’s second-best team embarks on a five-game, 3,601-mile odyssey that will pit the defending Stanley Cup champions against four conference foes in one week.
The road trip opens with Pittsburgh traveling to Raleigh, NC (326 miles) for a Thursday night contest with the Hurricanes. The Pens are 1-1 against Carolina this year, posting a 3-2 victory in their other visit. The Canes are currently 13th in the East but have been making a charge, winning eight of their last 10 and currently standing just eight points out of the playoffs. That is incredible stuff for a team that started so horrifically.
The Pens then travel from Raleigh to Newark, NJ (417 miles) for a Friday tussle with the Atlantic-Division rival Devils, who currently stand five points behind Pittsburgh with two games in hand. A 3-6-1 skid has dropped New Jersey from their lofty post but they must view two games in six days against the Pens as their chance to regroup and reestablish control. The Devils are 4-0 against Pittsburgh so far this year, outscoring the Pens 14-2 and shutting out one of the league’s best offenses each of the last two games. Despite their recent struggles, the Devils are 20-9-1 in the Rock this year.
Saturday is a day-of as the Pens make their way from the Garden State to sunny Tampa (999 miles) for a Sunday contest against Ryan Malone and the Lightning. The two teams have split the season’s first two affairs, with the Bolts capturing a 3-1 win in Tampa on Jan. 2. Tampa Bay is four points out of the playoffs and 18-8-6 at home this season. They are 5-5 in their last 10.
Sidney Crosby and the boys will head home for a little R&R from Floriday (872 miles) before heading back to Jersey (306 miles) for a Wednesday contest against the Devils. I anticipate some angst to be displayed in this game. The Pens will be sick of road games and any time you see the same opponent twice in six days there are bound to be some hard feelings. Especially with a Division title and playoff seeding on the line.
Speaking of hard feelings, the final game of the extended road swing is a Thursday night duel with the Boston Bruins (198 miles). We all hope Cooke is still under suspension for this game because if he is on the ice he will be a moving target. The B’s will probably dress two goons to punish the Cookey monster. The Pens are 2-1-1 against the Bruins this season. Boston currently holds eighth-spot in the Eastern Conference, two points ahead of the New York Rangers. Following the game, the black & gold finally head home (483 miles).
The Pens are facing a tough road without question. So far this season they are 19-12-1 away from the Igloo, tied with Washington for the most road wins in the Eastern Conference (San Jose leads the NHL with 21). This road trip is a signature moment of the season, much as last year’s five-game road trip – in which the Pens went 5-0 – served as the catalyst for the championship run.