The Pittsburgh Penguins continued to spring forward in the standings entering the first day of April where they left off in March, with a dominant 4-1 win against the Boston Bruins. Thursday night’s game marked the first of a critical six-game road stretch for the Penguins over the next two weeks. Pittsburgh has been lights out at home this season, but mediocre on the road. The next two weeks are crucial for the team’s battle for first place in the MassMutual East Division and to assert they can win away from PPG Paints Arena.
Home is where the Penguins’ heart is this season. They lead the NHL with a 16-3-1 home record this year. Home ice this season seemed to be a limited advantage with no fans allowed in the stands to start. As soon as fans were allowed in the stands last month, the Penguins were fueled by their presence and kicked off one of their best months in franchise history. They recorded 12 wins in March, the second-highest total in a single calendar month in franchise history. Nine of those wins were at home.
In 2020-21, the @penguins lead the NHL with 14 wins and 29 points at home.— Penguins PR (@PenguinsPR) March 27, 2021
Since Sidney Crosby made his debut in 2005-06, Pittsburgh's 384 home wins rank first in the league. pic.twitter.com/d1DLZSzJeQ
Dominance at home is nothing new for the Penguins. Since the 2015-16 season, they have ranked in the top five in home record in every season except 2018-19. It’s the reason they sell out every year. The road has been another story for them. This season they have an 8-8-1 record on the road, ranked 21st in the NHL. Last year, they also struggled, ranking 17th with a 17-15-2 away record. They have fallen behind and looked sluggish at times in their opponents’ houses. Pittsburgh is averaging 2.71 goals per game on the road this season, ranked 16th in the NHL, compared to 3.60 goals per game at home, ranked fifth in the NHL. With last night’s win against the Bruins in Boston and winning three of their four road games in March, they are starting to turn their play on the road around.
After the Bruins series wraps up on Saturday, the Penguins travel to the Tri-State area to face the New York Rangers and the New Jersey Devils. This season they are 1-1 at Madison Square Garden and 1-1 at the Prudential Center. The Rangers should be the tougher opponent for the Penguins, but the Devils aren’t going to roll over. They sit in sixth and seventh places, respectively.
The Rangers have 38 points and are very much in the battle for fourth place with the Flyers and Bruins’ recent struggles. The Penguins own the Rangers this season, but New York has found their stride in recent weeks, winning six of their last nine games. The Devils are not in contention with 31 points, although they have tested the Penguins this season. New Jersey won two of the three-game series against Pittsburgh two weeks ago. The Penguins can’t let their guard down next week.
It is crucial for the Penguins to come home with a winning record. They don’t want to fall into trap games with gritty teams. Anything can happen this season and a win is not guaranteed, even if it looks so on paper. The Penguins are battling for first place in the MassMutual East Division, and these road wins can secure home advantage in the playoffs. Better to win now on the road during the regular season than have to be on the road during the playoffs. They have a chance to build on March’s momentum and become the true favorites this season. Time to prove they can get the job done on the road, too.