A little over a third of the way through the 2015-16 regular season, the Bruins (16-9-4) are presented with a rare opportunity this week as they host the Penguins (15-11-3) on Wednesday (8, NBCSN) at TD Garden then they travel to Pittsburgh’s Consol Energy Center on Friday (7, NESN). The Penguins have been one of the NHL’s biggest disappointments and currently, they are a complete mess so it seems like the perfect time for the B’s to play them in a home-and-home series. By sweeping Pittsburgh, Boston would simultaneously boost their playoff hopes while further burying the Penguins who are 3-4-3 in their last 10 games.
Last weekend, Pittsburgh fired head coach Mike Johnston and replaced him with former Bruins head coach (and Marshfield native) Mike Sullivan. Veteran winger Pascal Dupuis had to retire due to blood clots, star defenseman Kris Letang is out with an upper-body injury, goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury might have picked up a concussion in Monday’s 4-1 loss to the Capitals on Monday and the Penguins traded defenseman Rob Scuderi (who went to BC) to the Blackhawks for defenseman Trevor Daley. Prized free agent and former Bruin Phil Kessel (9 goals, 9 assists) has been a flop and superstar Sidney Crosby (6 goals, 13 assists, -7) seems disinterested on a team that currently would be out of the Eastern Conference playoffs (they are in 9th place).
Monday’s 3-2 overtime loss to the Oilers (14-15-2) at the Garden was particularly frustrating for Boston since they totaled a season-high in shots on goal (49) on a mediocre goaltender (Cam Talbot) and rallied from a 2-0 hole, only to lose 41 seconds into the extra session without ever touching the puck in the offensive zone. Still, the Bruins are 6-1-3 in their last 10 games and only two points behind Detroit (16-9-6) and one point behind Ottawa (16-10-5) with two games in hand on both Atlantic Division foes who are fifth and sixth respectively in the East while the B’s are in seventh.
Nobody on Boston has played better recently than left wing Brad Marchand (15 goals, 7 assists) who scored the tying goal late in the third period against Edmonton. “This was one that we should have won,” he said afterwards. “Talbot made some big saves but we didn’t do a good job getting in front of him. Guys are stepping up and saying what needs to be said when we get down.”
After this week, Boston and Pittsburgh only meet one other time this season (Feb. 24 in Boston). That’s what makes these two games so important between two clubs who don’t like each other. Friday’s contest is the only road game for the Bruins (10-2-2 on the road) in two weeks as six of their seven games wrapped around Christmas take place on their home ice where they are still under .500 (6-7-2).