Tonight's matchup against the Dallas Stars is two things for the Pittsburgh Penguins; a nuisance for fans flicking back and forth from the Dodgers Stadium game and another chance for the Pens to flex their muscles against the Western Conference. There's no doubt that the West bolsters more powerhouse clubs and will have better postseason depth. Currently, there are six teams in the West with 60 or more points. Four have 70 plus and the Anaheim Ducks lead the league with 81. The East has three teams with 60 points or more and the Penguins lead the conference with 74. Summing it up, the East is DC Comics and the West is Marvel.
But no one is telling the Penguins that. The Pens have blasted the West this season, going 10-2-1 while scoring 45 goals and allowing 30. They have allowed only one goal to Western teams five times and dropped five tallies on four teams, including six on the Winnipeg Jets January 5th. It's not exclusively the bottom-dwellers the Penguins are crushing. They have beaten the mighty Anaheim Ducks (see what happened there?), the fierce San Jose Sharks, and twice toppled the talented Vancouver Canucks. All impressive wins, but are these results a school of red herrings or a real measuring stick?
Let's look at the three defeats the Western Conference has handed the Penguins. The Colorado Avalanche had seven penalty kills in their 1-0 win. Do you see the Pens current power play going oh-for-anything right now? The Edmonton Oilers where at home and took advantage of a defensively undisciplined squad. That's something the Pens are still working on. As for the St. Louis Blues 2-1 victory . . . well they just flat out beat them. Excuses do not mean anything in the NHL, but two of these three loses have lessons the Penguins can learn from. The PP test they have already passed, but the improved team defense final still looms.
Speaking of looming, the Pens still have two games against the Los Angeles Kings and Chicago Blackhawks to worry about. Those teams are crazy good, with goaltending and scoring beyond amazing. Then there's the trip to the Honda Center, home of the Ducks who never seem to lose there. Plus trips to Denver, Nashville, and Minneapolis. That's a tough slate of games and that's really when the barometer of how good the Penguins are against the West is set.
Those games are in the future. The Dallas Stars are the present. Puck drops at 8:00pm.
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