It’s all about a return to normalcy for Brian Gibbons.
For the last three weeks, the Penguins have played all their games on the road. They haven’t skated in front of the home fans at the Mohegan Sun Arena since March 2, and with the playoff race growing tighter by the day a little familiar ice will serve as a nice change of scenery.
So will the familiar surroundings of home.
“Anytime you spend this long on the road, playing away from home and the fans, you need to get back to your home rink where you have that set schedule in terms of eating at the familiar places, getting back into your sleep routine and things like that,” Gibbons said. “It’s nice to get back to that.”
Aside from home ice, the Penguins will also host a familiar opponent tonight in their return to the Mohegan Sun Arena as the Norfolk Admirals come to town. The Admirals are three points out of the final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference and they trail the sixth place Penguins by a half dozen points.
Despite the lead in the standings, the Penguins are 2-4 against Norfolk this season and they’ve lost the last two meetings while being held to a single goal.
Sure the Admirals may be in last place in the East Division, but they are as dangerous to the Penguins as any opponent.
“They had a tough start but recently they’re playing well,” said Gibbons. “Every time I look at the scores they’ve been winning. I’m sure they have some confidence and we’re a team they’re trying to catch to get into the playoffs.
“They’ll be ready to go.”
Center Trevor Smith was a member of the Norfolk team that won the Calder Cup last season with the AHL’s highest-scoring offense. With a Penguins team that has produced the third-fewest goals in the league so far, Smith knows his current team has to pick up its production in order to have a successful run to the postseason.
If that happens, he said, the wins will come.
“We play a gritty, hard-working style that if you don’t work hard, you don’t see the benefits,” Smith said. “When we establish our forecheck that’s when we are on our game, and that’s why teams don’t want to play us in the playoffs.”
But first the Penguins have to get there by beating teams like Norfolk.
And there’s no better place to start than at home.
“It’s been a while and the fact that our return home is on a Saturday night is big,” said head coach John Hynes. “Usually Saturday nights mean a good crowd and good atmosphere. It’s something to look forward to.”
So are the familiar surroundings of home.
“This is a big homecoming for us and it’s nice to be back especially as these games are getting more crucial down the stretch,” Smith said.