Pittsburgh Penguins 2013-14 NHL Schedule: Must-See Games, Predictions & More
In addition to their annual meetings against former Atlantic Division rivals such as the Philadelphia Flyers, New York Rangers, New Jersey Devils and New York Islanders, the Pens will also face new division foes in the Carolina Hurricanes, Columbus Blue Jackets and Washington Capitals as members of the Metropolitan Division.
In addition to the new challenges from within the division, the Pens will also face off against Western Conference teams for the first time since the 2011-2012 season.
As opposed to last year's four-month sprint, this year's schedule figures to be more like the marathons of years past.
With the recent release of the 2013-2014 NHL schedule, let's look at five of Pittsburgh's biggest games of the regular season and my prediction for the Metropolitan Division's final standings.
October 17th on the Road Against the Philadelphia Flyers
Any time the Penguins and Flyers meet, it's an important game. This early-season trip to Philadelphia promises to provide fireworks.
Having missed the playoffs and dropped three of four regular-season games to the Pens last year, the Flyers will be looking to reassert themselves in the newly formed Metropolitan Division.
One of the key storylines of this game will be who gets the start in net for the Flyers. With Steve Mason and Ray Emery each on one-year contracts, the Flyers will be looking to see who emerges as the top goaltender.
A strong showing by one of them against the team's cross-state rival would go a long way toward determining who gets the starting job for the rest of the season.
October 25th at Home Against the New York Islanders
After pushing the Penguins to six games in a hard-fought first-round playoff series, the up-and-coming New York Islanders return to Pittsburgh eager to prove that last year’s strong showing was no fluke.
An interesting side note will be whether Pens head coach Dan Bylsma gives Marc-Andre Fleury the start in net for this game.
Having struggled in the first four games of last year’s playoff series before being benched, Fleury will be looking to turn the page on those struggles and a strong performance against the Islanders would boost his confidence.
October 30th at Home Against the Boston Bruins.
Looking to avenge the franchise’s first playoff sweep since 1979, the Penguins will get a chance to enact a measure of revenge against the defending Eastern Conference champions as they welcome the Boston Bruins to the Consol Energy Center.
The game will also be a homecoming of sorts for former Penguin Jarome Iginla, who signed with the Bruins after blocking a trade to Boston at last year’s trade deadline.
Having endured a tumultuous offseason of their own, the Bruins will be looking to reassert themselves and an early-season win in Pittsburgh would send a strong message to the Pens and the rest of the Eastern Conference.
February 27th at Home Against the Montreal Canadiens.
After a 20-day layoff for the Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia, the Penguins return to the ice to face the Montreal Canadiens.
With just one game to work off the rust before beginning a five-game road trip, the Pens will have precious little time to get back in rhythm and will need to have a strong showing against the Canadiens.
While the extended road trip could help rebuild team chemistry, the first game of the stretch away from Consol will be in Chicago against the defending Stanley Cup champions, which means the Pens will have to get back in the swing of things pretty quickly.
March 10th on the Road Against the Washington Capitals.
After losing the Hart Trophy as NHL MVP to Alexander Ovechkin in a close and hotly debated vote, Sidney Crosby will be looking to remove any doubt as to who the best player in the league is.
As the NHL enters the stretch run, he will get his chance when the Pens take on the Capitals in the first game of a back-to-back, home-and-home series against the Capitals and Philadelphia Flyers.
With the division lead most likely on the line, the Pens will have the opportunity to strengthen their playoff position and perhaps derail the postseason plans of one of their rivals.
The Penguins figure to enter the season as the odds-on favorites to win the Metropolitan Division.
Of the seven other teams in the division, only the New York Islanders and Columbus Blue Jackets have upgraded their respective rosters.
According to CapGeek.com, the Flyers are more than $2 million over the salary cap and will have to make another move. Meanwhile, the New York Rangers, Washington Capitals and Carolina Hurricanes have holes to fill and not much money with which to fill them.
The team with the best cap situation, the New Jersey Devils, was blindsided last week by the departure of Ilya Kovalchuk to the KHL. Having signed Jaromir Jagr to a one-year deal, it's clear they are scrambling to find goal scoring help.
While the Pens have cap issues of their own, they are without question the most complete team in the division.
Given the question marks surrounding the other teams, the Pens finishing anywhere but in the top spot in the division will be a huge disappointment and my prediction is that Pens fans will not be disappointed.
While there is no way to account for injuries and player moves throughout the season, here's my prediction for the final standings in the Metropolitan Division.
- Pittsburgh Penguins: Strong (and healthy) seasons by Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin return the Pens to the top of their division.
- New York Rangers: Rick Nash and Brad Richards figure to have strong seasons now that former head coach John Tortorella and his mind games have been sent packing.
- New York Islanders: Last year's showing in the playoffs was not a mirage. This team has confidence to go with its talent and will be near the top of the division.
- Carolina Hurricanes: The Staal brothers give the Hurricanes a top-notch line to build around, and according to CapGeek, GM Jim Rutherford still has nearly $5 million to spend between now and opening night.
- Columbus Blue Jackets: The Blue Jackets have added goal scoring in Nathan Horton and Marian Gaborik to go with a strong blue-line corps. Sergei Bobrovsky will be eager to show that last year wasn't a fluke.
- Washington Capitals: Alexander Ovechkin will score enough goals to keep the Capitals in the hunt for a playoff spot, but won't be able to save their season with a hot month like he did last year.
- Philadelphia Flyers: With a patchwork in goal, the Flyers will remain competitive but struggle to keep pucks out of their net. They are still more than $2 million over the cap as training camp approaches.
- New Jersey Devils: Lou Lamoriello has worked wonders with undermanned rosters before, but losing Ilya Kovolchuk to the KHL will leave too big a whole for Jaromir Jagr and other retreads to fill.