Jan 5, 2014; Pittsburgh, PA, USA; Pittsburgh Penguins defenseman Matt Niskanen (2) celebrates with center Brian Gibbons (L), center Sidney Crosby (LC) and defenseman Olli Maatta (3) after scoring a goal against the Winnipeg Jets during the third period at the CONSOL Energy Center. The Penguins won 6-5. Mandatory Credit: Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

Pittsburgh Penguins Gameday Skate: Comforts Of Home Should Help Against Capitals

As if a franchise record-tying 12-game home winning streak hasn’t told you how much these Pittsburgh Penguins enjoy playing at Consol Energy Center, their uneven play on last week’s three-game western Canada trip should’ve hammered it home.

While the home version of the Penguins – now 19-3 on the season – usually ambushes its opponent right from the opening faceoff, the road Pens haven’t locked in that quickly. Pittsburgh eventually built 2-0 leads in all three games last week, but those advantages were more indicative of the opponents’ lack of quality than anything Dan Bylsma‘s club did – especially against Edmonton and Calgary.

Overall, the Penguins are barely over .500 away from Consol, winning 14 of 25 on the road (14-9-2). Contrast that to their .864 win percentage at home, and it’s much more of a disparity than expected. Going back to the 2011-12 season, Pittsburgh is 66-19-3 in its Uptown hockey palace, which translates to about 77 percent of the available standings points.

Strangely enough, although the Penguins have won five in a row against the Capitals and six of seven, Washington has a 5-3 record in Pittsburgh since the 2009-10 season. However, the Pens are 3-0-1 at home against their new Metropolitan Division rivals over the past three years, so perhaps that’s no longer a relevant storyline.

As far as this season goes, the Penguins have a 16-point lead over both Washington and Philadelphia in the Metro, so tonight’s nationally-televised matchup is another opportunity for Pittsburgh to continue to strengthen its hold on a second straight division title.

Combine that large spread with the Pens’ five-game unbeaten streak (4-0-1) and their stunning 13-2-1 record since Nov. 27, and it seems the Capitals should be happy to keep it close. The Pittsburgh-Washington rivalry is always interesting, but this year it feels like two teams in different weight classes.

Tonight’s game: Penguins (33-12-2, 68 points – 1st Metropolitan) at Oilers (22-16-8, 52 points – 2nd Metro) at Consol Energy Center in Pittsburgh. Faceoff is set for 8 p.m. Eastern time, with NBC Sports Network and 105.9 The X handling broadcast duties.

The goalie matchup will be Marc-Andre Fleury vs. Michal Neuvirth. Because of injury problems up front, the rest of the Pittsburgh lineup will be set near game time. As I wrote this morning, Brandon Sutter will likely man the right wing on the Sidney Crosby line, while James Neal participated in the gameday skate and will give it a shot tonight on Evgeni Malkin‘s right flank.

Tags: Pittsburgh Penguins

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