The Penguins’ preparedness and mettle will be tested right from the start of the upcoming 48-game NHL season, as back-to-back games at divisional opponents begin an opening segment that features eight road contests in the first 12.
Pittsburgh opens at Philadelphia on Saturday afternoon, followed by a Sunday night visit to Madison Square Garden to face the Rangers. Trips to Winnipeg and Ottawa before the end of January make it four of five on the road out of the chute, and the first quarter of the schedule will continue that traveling theme.
Of course, the schedule will eventually turn in the Penguins’ favor, with a home game Sunday, Feb. 10 starting a run of five CONSOL Energy Center dates in two weeks. March is an especially kind month, as it features 10 home games and is highlighted by a string of 10 out of 12 in the ‘Burgh.
Getting back to the start, I wouldn’t be surprised if Penguins coach Dan Bylsma tried to focus his team on the first 12 tilts. Breaking seasons down into manageable chunks is a common motivational tactic across the world of athletics, and it’s an admitted favorite of Bylsma as well.
At any rate, a starting run like Pittsburgh’s could easily benefit a veteran team that has little to prove in the regular season. The next four-plus months will already be abnormally adrenalized, but the Penguins may gain an additional boost by donning the road whites frequently in the season’s first three weeks.
High-level athletes often claim that being the target of ire in a crowded arena is just as energizing as playing in front of a rabid home crowd, if not more so. The Penguins will have the chance to prove that early on.
Digging further into the intangibles, there won’t be much time for team-building activities during an accelerated training camp, which many league coaches are saying will simply function as an extended run of practices. Early road trips can help a club come together emotionally, which would provide benefits down the line.
Finally, once the Penguins do get into the home-heavy portion of the 2013 season, you know they’ll appreciate the modern comforts of CONSOL even more.
It sounds a bit counterintuitive, but taking an early tour of the Eastern Conference could be an ideal jumping-off point for a 48-game sprint to the Stanley Cup playoffs.