Saturday, 30 March 2013

March Of The Penguins

The Pittsburgh Penguins did something today that no other team can claim: they went perfect for an entire month in a month that consisted of more than ten games. Pittsburgh is 15-0 on their latest run, and they have put together quite a streak in terms of numbers. Sure, 15-0 is the most impressive number, but consider the numbers before they started this incredible run.

The Penguins entered their game against the Carolina Hurricanes on Thursday, February 28 with a respectable 13-7-0 record. Everyone was happy as the Penguins were competing for the division lead, but you got a sense that this Penguins team could be so much more.

By the end of the night, Pittsburgh had fallen to 13-8-0 as the Hurricanes downed the Penguins 4-1. The Penguins looked lethargic on the night as Jiri Tlusty provided two goals and a helper for Carolina, and this followed a 6-4 loss in Florida two nights earlier where the Penguins gave up four powerplay goals. Head coach Dan Bylsma said after the game, "If Florida and Carolina aren't the type of buildings that give you the same focus as Madison Square Garden or Philly, then that is something we have to address. We just can't show up in a building in Florida and Carolina and think it's going to be an easy game where we get two points."

Apparently, focus was something the Penguins were lacking, and Byslma and his staff began changing the Penguins' focus and preparation for games. It wouldn't be easy, though, as the Penguins rolled into Montreal for a game against the Eastern Conference-leading Montreal Canadiens on Saturday. It wasn't pretty by any means, but the Penguins got up for this game in downing the Habs by a 7-6 score in overtime. Not their best effort by any means, but two points none-the-less.

It was that game, though, that began the incredible run that the Penguins are on, and you can see this team changing through the streak. Defensively, the Penguins have made huge strides and appear to be playing sound playoff-like hockey. Their goaltending has seen an improvement with this increased focus on their play in their own zone. More importantly, the Penguins are still scoring, but not giving up chances against while creating offence. If you're Dan Bylsma, your name should be tossed into the Jack Adams Trophy race for the changes he has implemented.

Consider these numbers when looking at the streak:
  • The Penguins outscored their opposition 53-27.
  • They have allowed just 13 goals over their last twelve games.
  • They have allowed just 9 goals over their last eleven games.
  • They have won two games in OT, and one in the shootout.
  • They have won nine one-goal games.
  • The last time they gave up more than 2 goals - March 9, 2013.
  • They have recorded four shutouts.
  • They are currently on a three-game shutout streak.
  • They beat Montreal twice, Boston twice, Winnipeg, and Toronto.
This Penguins team was already good, and then they added some impressive pieces through trades. Brenden Morrow was added first, and he'll bring a ton of grit and leadership to the dressing room through his presence. GM Ray Shero then brought in Douglas Murray as a depth defenceman, but also for his grit and play in front of his own net. And then Shero landed Jarome Iginla in what most of the hockey world has called the "steal of the year". Iginla is a bonafide goal-scorer, a proven leader, can play physical, and will certainly make the Penguins better. In short, this trade deadline for Shero has been nothing short of the perfect storm.

According to various players on the team, no one is talking about the streak in the room, but you know it's on the mind of every fan walking through the turnstiles. But you have to believe that if Dan Bylsma has this team not looking at the numbers, this streak may last for a while yet.

Tuesday, the Penguins host the Buffalo Sabres who have already begun dismantling their team. While they can't be overlooked thanks to the play of Ryan Miller, you have to think that Bylsma will have the Penguins primed for this game. Following that game, the Penguins host the Rangers on Wednesday before invading Madison Square Garden on Friday. Back-to-back games against the same team usually allows for the teams to make changes, so the Penguins will need to be ready for anything, especially in the game in New York City. If the streak is still intact after those games, they will play the team that last defeated them as the Penguins roll into Carolina.

The scary part of this run is that the Penguins won't see another team currently holding a playoff spot until April 17 when they host the Montreal Canadiens. After that, they travel to Boston, host the Sabres, visit Ottawa and New Jersey, and close out the season by hosting the Hurricanes once more. The schedule certainly has its difficulties, but the Penguins have already proven that they can go undefeated over a month. If they can turn the trick twice, NHL records will fall and the Eastern Conference will be staring at a juggernaut as the playoffs open.

The game against Buffalo starts a new month. Focus only on that.

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

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