The Pittsburgh Penguins will enter tomorrow night’s game at the Consol Energy Center with the Eastern Conference-leading New York Rangers with a 22-11-4 record, good for 46 points and the fifth spot in the East. The Rangers hold a 24-9-4 record with 52 points.
The next night, the Penguins host the New Jersey Devils, owners of the eighth spot in the East with just two less points than the Penguins. Tuesday’s home game with the sixth-place Ottawa Senators will be no easy task, nor will Wednesday night’s road match with the surging Washington Capitals.
These next four games could end up becoming the most important games of the Penguins’ season. Each of them will have playoff implications at the end of the season (so long as the once-lowly Senators keep pace with the pack), so this four-game stretch can be viewed as a potential 16-point swing. Whether the Penguins capture or lose out on those points will be crucial to the final standings.
The team is finally starting to get relatively healthy, at least as much as possible with the greatest player in the world plus a potential Norris candidate in Kris Letang sidelined for extended periods of time with concussions.
Both Pascaul Dupuis (upper body) and Robert Bortuzzo (concussion) returned to practice today, though Arron Asham (lower body) did not. Steve Sullivan missed practice with an illness, but hasn’t been ruled out of tomorrow’s game. The Penguins also activated both Richard Park and Paul Martin from injured reserve today, so both are eligible to play ASAP.
Evgeni Malkin ranks seventh in the NHL with 43 points, but is tied with Philadelphia’s Claude Giroux for the league lead with 1.39 points per game. His eight-game point streak was snapped Saturday against the Devils, but the Penguins will need Malkin to continue to lead the team and play as well as he has all season long. James Neal will need to continue scoring, Jordan Staal will need to keep producing and Marc-Andre Fleury will have to continue his stellar play in net if the Penguins want to get through this stretch of games and the rest of the season as legitimate Stanley Cup contenders, despite the absences of Sidney Crosby and Letang.
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