The Pittsburgh Penguins are the hottest team in the National Hockey League right now. There’s no denying that. Winners of nine consecutive games, the Penguins have vaulted into the fourth seed in the Eastern Conference and are legitimately threatening the New York Rangers’ conference lead, something nobody thought possible a few short weeks ago.
But is the hottest team in the NHL – led by the best healthy player in the NHL in Evgeni Malkin – the best one?
During this nine-game win streak, the Penguins have defeated four teams currently holding playoff spots and five teams on the outside looking in. Seven of the nine games have been played at home, and each of the team’s last three wins have come against teams who played (and lost) the night before facing the Penguins.
Nine games without a single loss is surely impressive, but I’m not ready to say the Penguins are the best team in the NHL right now. The team’s next three games, though, could convince me.
Thursday night, the Penguins meet the Eastern Conference-leading Rangers. On Saturday, the Penguins play the New Jersey Devils less than 24 hours before taking on the Philadelphia Flyers. All of these are road games.
This will prove the team’s toughest four-day stretch of the season. All three opponents are considered top ten NHL teams by NHL.com’s latest power rankings. Three games in four days against arguably the three best teams in the Eastern Conference aside from Pittsburgh will undoubtedly test the legitimacy of the Penguins’ current run.
If the team captures all six possible points from this stretch, there truly is no denying its place as the best team in hockey.
However, Sidney Crosby‘s return could come Thursday and Kris Letang is progressing well with his “concussion-like symptoms.” Adding those two to the team’s current lineup really nullifies any argument against the Penguins as the best the NHL has to offer, regardless of what happens during this road trip.
Until we get word of Crosby’s comeback officially happening, though, these upcoming games will tell us if the Penguins deserve the title of the NHL’s best.
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