As the new NHL season nears, the league has begun to release the details surrounding the upcoming season. Despite several uncertainties still to be worked out, a detailed framework has been released to the general public.
The NHL season will commence on January 13th, 2021 with teams separated into four divisions that will look a bit different than normal. The Pittsburgh Penguins will compete in the Atlantic division, which looks to be the hardest division from top to bottom. They will play against the same seven teams, eight times apiece throughout the 56-game season. The decision to play only divisional opponents comes as the players wanted to limit travel as much as possible throughout the year. This new framework should spark divisional rivalries, and make for some very competitive playoff races league-wide as the top four teams in each division will advance to the playoffs. With some great talent in every division, it is quite difficult to predict who will advance out of their respective groups.
Aside from the Penguins, the division features the Boston Bruins, Buffalo Sabres, New Jersey Devils, New York Islanders, New York Rangers, Washington Capitals, and state rival Philadelphia Flyers. The Pens had a cumulative record of 8-8-3 last season against those seven teams which does not bode well for them heading into the new season. However, despite having a losing overall record against these other clubs, only three of them (Bruins, Capitals, Flyers) finished last season with more points than the Penguins (86). It will undoubtedly be a challenging season for the Pens as each team in their division, excluding the Devils who continue the process of a re-build, could be a potential playoff contender.
The key to the team’s success this season is to utilize the experience that their core players, such as Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin, possess as their competitors lack the depth and experience that the Pens have. With the exception of the Capitals, who won the Stanley Cup in the 2017-18 season, and the Bruins, who have made deep playoff runs for numerous years now, no other team in the Atlantic has the experience and leadership group comparable to them. It is essential that they use this to their advantage against their opponents who are young and hungry for success. Barring any injuries, the Pens will likely be in the thick of the playoff race, but winning the division will be no easy task. Regardless, consistency will serve as extremely important in this shortened season as any losing-streak could prove costly.
The Penguins have made several important offseason moves such as trading for Kasperi Kapanen and signing Cody Ceci, and this season will see depth play an important factor as teams must carry a taxi-squad of extra players throughout the year, and must have three goalies rostered at all times. This season will surely be a huge test for the team. There were many questions surrounding the organization at the end of last season claiming that they can no longer compete with their core group. They will have to prove that they can still contend with this core group of players up against the toughest division in the league.
The Pens will open their training camp on January 3rd as they prepare for another exciting year of hockey ahead. It is still unclear whether or not fans will be permitted to attend games in a limited capacity at PPG Paints Arena this upcoming season but nevertheless, Pens fans will be excited to see the black and gold back on the ice again for a very important year.