The Pittsburgh Penguins’ schedule is about to take on a decidedly minor-league feel as November begins.
No, I’m not taking about the quality of their competition, although the Pens do play seven of their next 11 against opponents below them in the struggling Metropolitan Division.
What gives the next month a Wheeling feeling are the four sets of back-to-back games the Penguins will play during it. If you aren’t aware, minor-league and junior-level hockey teams play essentially every Friday and Saturday, to maximize the number of people who can come to their games.
That’s not the case in the NHL, where the team usually can dictate local interest more than vice versa. However, starting with this weekend’s home-and-home against the Columbus Blue Jackets, the Penguins’ slate will resemble that of a bus league until their 15-game November comes to an end.
Pittsburgh (9-4-0, 18 points) played two back-to-backs in its 13-game October, but now the Penguins will feel the Olympic-year crunch a little bit more; only March (16 games in 31 days) will be busier than November.
As for the Blue Jackets, tonight at Consol Energy Center will mark their first trip to Pittsburgh as a division rival. Columbus (5-6-0, 10 points) is off to a somewhat disappointing start after barely missing the playoffs last season. The Jackets are tied with New Jersey, Washington and the Rangers for fourth in the tepid Metro.
Despite its pedestrian record, Columbus is the only other Metro team besides Pittsburgh to boast a positive goal differential. The Jackets and Pens will get together five times this season, three more than in any single year since Columbus joined the NHL in 2000-01.
Although the franchises separated by just a couple hours of drive time haven’t seen each other often, there are familiar faces on Columbus. Plum, Pa., native and former Flyer R.J. Umberger is a veteran Jacket, while former Rangers Marian Gaborik, Brandon Dubinsky, Artem Anisimov and Fedor Tyutin are also on the active roster. Finally, Jackets coach Todd Richards used to be in charge of the Penguins’ AHL affiliate in Wilkes-Barre/Scranton.
Gospel of Hockey co-host Larry Snyder and I got a first-hand account of the opening month of Pegula Ice Arena from Mary Clarke, hockey writer for the Penn State FanSided blog Victory Bell Rings. How has the PSU community responded to the second year of Division I hockey on campus? What can we expect from the program as the season gets going and conference play approaches? Larry and I also delivered our weekly Local Hockey Report: