There ?s no denying that the Penguins have a very difficult schedule this season, but the NHL season is over a quarter of the way completed and it still remains a hot topic. One of the reasons that it continues to draw the ire of Penguins fans is that the team continues to struggle with the second half of back-to-back sets. The Penguins ? record in the second game of back-to-backs is an abysmal 1-4-2 and they still face 12 more back-to-back situations. Only the Ottawa Senators have as many back-to-back sets of games as the Penguins. For comparison sake, the Senators are faring very well on the second half of back-to-backs, posting a record of 2-1-1.
While some Penguins fans might feel that the NHL is purposefully making it difficult on the team to prevent it from winning a third consecutive Stanley Cup, a further examination of the schedule reveals that the Senators actually have just as difficult, if not a more difficult, schedule. Both teams have a league-high 19 back-to-back sets. The breakdown of back-to-backs per month shows that the worst month for back-to-backs is already over for the Penguins, but the Senators face a brutal month of March in which they play 16 games, including five sets of back-to-back games.
|Penguins October||Penguins November||Penguins December||Penguins January||Penguins February||Penguins March||Penguins April|
|Senators October||Senators November||Senators December||Senators January||Senators February||Senators March||Senators April|
For both teams, there are 15 instances where their opponent in the second game of the back-to-back did not play the night before. A complete breakdown of the respective schedules is shown below.
|Neither Opponent nor Penguins played night before||Both Penguins & Opponent Played night before||Penguins Played Night Before, but Opponent Did Not||Penguins did not play night before, but Opponent did|
|Neither Opponent nor Senators played night before||Both Senators & Opponent Played night before||Senators Played Night Before, but Opponent Did Not||Senators did not play night before, but Opponent did|
While the breakdown above is revealing, it does not tell the whole story. Of the Penguins ? 19 back-to-backs, only two of those sets are back-to-back home games. Similarly, the Senators only play three sets of back-to-back home games. Therefore, 17 times for the Penguins and 16 times for the Senators there will be an instance of immediate travel following the first game of a back-to-back. The breakdown of the home and away situations is below.
|Penguins home game following a road game||Penguins road game following a home game||Penguins road game following a road game||Penguins home game following a home game|
|Senators home game following a road game||Senators road game following a home game||Senators road game following a road game||Senators home game following a home game|
With all of the doom and gloom of the Penguins ? and Senators ? schedules, there is a silver lining. In an odd sort of way, the schedule actually benefits the goaltenders of the teams. The schedule literally forces the respective teams to rest their starting goaltenders at least 19 times; very rarely will a goaltender play both ends of a back-to-back situation. We have seen goaltenders like Washington ?s Braden Holtby and Edmonton ?s Cam Talbot play 70+ games in past seasons, then burn out in the playoffs. With the Penguins ? and Senators ? schedules the way they are, the most starts Matt Murray and Craig Anderson are likely to get are 60-63, although Murray’s knee injury on Monday night will decrease that total.
From the Penguins ? perspective, they have gone into each of the past two playoffs with well-rested goaltenders and it has proven to be pivotal in their success. Consider that Murray had started just 13 regular-season games during the 2015-16 season and only 47 during the 2016-17 season.
Fans can draw their own conclusions and/or come up with conspiracy theories that the NHL is out to get the Penguins. However, if that is the case, then why did the NHL also hand the Senators what could be considered an even more daunting schedule? The reality is that there are literally dozens of factors that go into making an NHL schedule. My advice is to sit back and enjoy all of the instances of getting to watch the Penguins on consecutive nights as they try for a third consecutive Stanley Cup Championship.