The Top 5 'Must See' Games on the Pittsburgh Penguins' 2014-15 Schedule
The Pens have a ton of storylines to watch this year, but the big one won’t commence until mid-April. It’s no doubt this team is destined to make the playoffs again, but what they do in the postseason will be lingering on the minds of fans throughout the next seven months.
This season will mark the beginning of new rivalries and will reignite old ones as well, so with that in mind, we have come up with five specific matchups that Penguins fans must tune into this year.
Please leave a comment below to discuss your take on this year’s schedule, and let us know what games you cannot wait to see.
All stats and scheduling information from NHL.com.
5. Feb. 1: Predators at Penguins
The return of James Neal will no doubt be the highlight of the Penguins' second matchup against the Nashville Predators in early February, but we may actually get to see a good game as well.
The Predators will be an interesting club to watch this season. If the team can get contributions from Neal and Mike Ribeiro on offense, as well as from Shea Weber and the budding Seth Jones on defense, this team could surprise some folks and give the Penguins two fun games to tune into this season. However, goaltender Pekka Rinne must return to form quickly this year after having a dismal 2013-14 campaign that saw him win only 10 out of 23 games and stop only .902 percent of the shots he faced.
The trade that sent Neal to the Preds was a smart move by newly minted general manager Jim Rutherford. The Predators gained a valuable scoring winger in the prime of his career, while the Penguins added some serious depth with Patric Hornqvist and Nick Spaling.
Moving Neal was a good decision because the Pens didn’t need another pure goal scorer on their team. They needed a gritty forward like Hornqvist who can score goals and hustle back to the defending zone when needed.
When Neal returns to the Burgh, it will be to a house full of cheers and welcoming arms. Sure, he was only with the club since 2011 and didn’t win a Cup, but the city will be looking forward to seeing his face again when he’s back on Pens ice since he was a fan favorite.
4. Nov. 11: Penguins at Rangers
This is the first meeting between the Penguins and the New York Rangers since Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Semifinal last postseason.
Of the past five postseasons, last year against the Blueshirts may have been the toughest one to watch for Pens fans. The club had a 3-1 lead over its Metropolitan Division rivals only to lose three straight to the eventual Eastern Conference champions.
The Penguins will want some serious revenge this season and most likely will get it.
The Rangers will have a tough time making another Cup run mainly because they lost some beneficial players this offseason, such as Anton Stralman, Brad Richards and Brian Boyle. They won’t be bad this year, but they will have a hard time knocking off the top dogs of the Eastern Conference like the Boston Bruins and the Penguins.
The Pens will try to exact their revenge by showing that they are the better team this year. To do that convincingly, they will look to win every one the four contests they have against the Original Six franchise.
3. Oct. 9: Ducks at Penguins
While it is very hard to predict the two teams that will square off in the Stanley Cup Final before the season starts, the possibility of the Anaheim Ducks facing the Pittsburgh Penguins on opening night could be a preview for what we see in June.
Both teams are front-of-the pack leaders in their respective conferences, but they do have their flaws. Those weaknesses led to both of them being knocked out after the second round of last year's postseason.
Both general managers have made some eye-catching moves this offseason in the hopes of making a deeper run than last year.
Ducks GM Bob Murray arguably made the most eye-catching trade in all of hockey this summer when he traded Nick Bonino, Luca Sbisa and two draft picks to the Vancouver Canucks for Ryan Kesler and a pick. The goal was to give Anaheim the second-line center they desperately needed.
In the Steel City, Rutherford dealt past 40-goal scorer Neal for Hornqvist and Spaling on draft day in the hopes of adding depth on the forward lines.
Now, while these changes don’t mean that these teams are a shoo-in to meet in the final, they sure will make for one enticing opening preview of the Western Conference's best against the Eastern Conference’s best once the puck drops to kick off the season.
2. April 5: Penguins at Flyers
The Philadelphia Flyers have to be somewhere in this article, right?
A late-season meeting between the two teams is always a nice reminder that they might get to dance in the postseason.
If you don’t remember (see video), in 2012, the Penguins and the Flyers met in Pittsburgh for the third-to-last game of the 2011-12 regular season. What entailed in the final minutes of the game was a free-for-all brawl that led then-Flyers coach Peter Laviolette to climb onto the bench and curse out then-Penguins coaches Dan Bylsma and Tony Granato.
The Flyers-Penguins rivalry is one of the NHL’s best, and each game they play this season deserves to be considered “must see.”
The final matchup between these two bitter clubs will make for one tasty appetizer if the hockey gods allow for a Flyers-Penguins postseason bout this year. With the success both teams had last year, it is definitely a possibility.
1. April 4: Penguins at Blue Jackets
The day before the Penguins square off against their storied foes, they will be in Columbus, Ohio, to take on what could be a rivalry in the making against the Blue Jackets.
Despite sending them to the links in the first round of the playoffs last year, the Pens found out that the Jackets aren’t looking to fall back into the NHL’s basement. They earned the franchise’s first and second postseason wins last year and are looking to come back even stronger.
The Penguins will be dealing with 2012-13 Vezina Trophy winner Sergei Bobrovsky four times this year in net as well as the likes of Brandon Dubinsky, Nathan Horton and Ryan Johansen on offense. Don’t forget about the pesky Scott Hartnell, too, who was recently acquired from the Flyers.
The Blue Jackets could be the Penguins' toughest opponents in their division this year, so they better size them up in each of their four matchups, especially during the last one in April, which like the Flyers game the next day, could be a teaser for a second postseason meeting.