Courtesy of Point Park University

Analysis: Plus-minus of 2019-20 schedule ☕


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Penguins' 2018 home opener. -- MATT SUNDAY / DKPS

The NHL schedule would seem to be, at first blush, a most fair and equitable document.

After all, it compels each of the league's 31 teams to play 82 regular-season games, evenly divided between home and away.

Eastern Conference clubs, like the Penguins, play four games against every division opponent and three each against clubs in the conference's other division. The balance of the schedule is two games, one home and one away, against Western Conference teams.

The format for Western teams, of which there is one fewer than in the East, is somewhat more complicated. Those clubs all face Eastern opponents twice, but the Central Division, which has seven members, has a slightly different set-up than the Pacific, which has eight.

Central teams face four division opponents four times and the other two five times each. They also play three against each Pacific club.

Pacific teams have four games against six division clubs and five against one, along with three versus every Central club.

But even though schedules are designed to be as similar as possible, pretty much every one has a few wrinkles and quirks, which means some are more player- and team-friendly than others.

There was, for example, one season when the Penguins played four games in Florida -- and had to make a separate trip to the state for each of them.

That necessitated a lot of extra travel, considering that teams frequently play at Tampa and Florida on consecutive nights, or have no more than one day between the games. That will be the case for the Penguins during the coming season, when they are at Florida Oct. 22 and Tampa Oct. 23, and at Tampa Feb. 6 and Florida Feb. 8.

The Penguins will have their share -- and perhaps someone else's -- of games on consecutive days in 2019-20, as there are 17 sets of those on the schedule. There will be three in each of the first three months of the season, two each in January and February and four in March.

Having so many back-to-backs that late in the regular season is less than ideal, considering that general fatigue already is an issue by March and that points become particularly precious then.

But if that's a negative in the Penguins' schedule, they have the potential for a major plus during the early weeks of the season -- if they can take advantage of it. Their first four games will be at PPG Paints Arena, beginning with the opener against Buffalo Oct. 3, and, after a two-game trip to Minnesota and Winnipeg, they will return home for three more before heading to Florida.

If they can take advantage of having seven of the first nine games in familiar surroundings, they could build up a cushion of points that might serve them well as the season moves along. Of course, if they stagger to a slow start, they might wish some of those games at PPG Paints Arena would have come along a bit later in the season.

The Penguins will have two road trips that match their run of home games to open the season. They will visit Calgary, Edmonton, Vancouver and Nashville from Dec. 17-27 (with the annual holiday break preceding the Predators game) and Washington, Los Angeles, Anaheim and San Jose Feb. 23-29.

If the Penguins are in a battle as the regular season winds down -- be it for a playoff berth or a division title -- they should have an excellent opportunity to solidify their place in the standings, because their final eight home games are against Metropolitan opponents, as are six of their final eight on the road.

The full schedule:

The Penguins' preseason schedule, which includes a game in State College, can be found here.

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