Home Ice Meaning Little to Pens, Caps

Josh Rowntree
April 25, 2018 - 8:52 pm
Conor Sheary

Tom Szczerbowski-USA TODAY Sports

Through the opening round of the NHL Playoffs, the Penguins and Capitals have combined to go 2-4 in home games. Yet both teams are perfect on the road and now ready themselves for Thursday’s Game 1 of the Eastern Conference Semifinals. 

So, it begs a question. Is home ice really that important and, with the potential to steal an early game on the road, can starting a series away from home be beneficial?

“I don’t think it’s an advantage playing on the road,” Pens winger Conor Sheary said. “I think this year’s kind of different in that sense that so many road teams are winning. I don’t know what it is. In playoffs, I think maybe you spend a little more time in a city, you get into a routine. Maybe that helps you when you get onto the road ice.”

Washington is coming off a series in which is dropped the first two games to Columbus before rallying to win the next four. Pittsburgh lost the second and fifth games of its series with Philadelphia at PPG Paints Arena. Both teams closed things out in away rinks. 

“You don’t really change anything,” defenseman Olli Maatta said. “I don’t think anything changes when you play home or away. I don’t know what it is that in the regular season we weren’t that good away, but you approach the game the same ways as always.” 

A year ago, Pittsburgh went into Washington and, like Columbus this postseason, claimed the first two games of the series. Washington took Game 3 in Pittsburgh and eventually extended the series to a Game 7, which Pittsburgh won in the nation’s capital. 

The series victory was the Penguins second in as many years against the Capitals, ninth in ten all-time meetings and seventh straight. 

“You just get more comfortable in the big stages,” defenseman Justin Schultz said of playing in Washington. “Obviously, it’s a loud rink and high intensity. It’s a lot of fun to play in those games, so you just have to learn to embrace it.” 

This season, the Penguins were one of the League’s best home teams, but stumbled frequently on the road. That trend has been flipped in the last two weeks. 

“For whatever reason, we haven’t been as successful at home,” Sheary added. “But, I think that will change in this series.”

Pittsburgh will again have a chance to put the pressure back on Washington and its abysmal postseason history against the Penguins. A fast start for the defending champions could be a cause for D.C. trepidation. 

“It’s always awesome to play in front of a loud crowd,” Maatta said. “It’s going to be a hostile environment again. But that’s what you enjoy. It doesn’t matter if you’re home or away. These games, there’s so much passion in there. It’s awesome.”