Collier: It's getting tough to think about anything but the streak

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The longest winning streak in the history of the NHL was in progress 20 years ago today, when waves of power-skating Pittsburgh Penguins flashing the ancient colors of basic black and traffic-light gold piled up 17 victories without interruption.

Unless, of course, the longest winning streak in the history of the National Hockey League is in progress right here right now.

"I didn't even know the number," Brooks Orpik said a couple of minutes after a 1-0 shutout of Montreal made it 13 in a row for the here-and-now Penguins.

The company line is that "We're not getting ahead of ourselves," difficult as that may be. Still, the pace at which events are unfolding around this current generation of Penguins makes it hard to resist drawing potentially momentous conclusions.

Winning a 13th consecutive Tuesday night has one set of implications, but gaining significant personnel augmentations through the aggressive management of general manager Ray Shero seemed to license a whole other set of implications that are even broader.

So veteran winger Brenden Morrow, acquired a week ahead of the trade deadline from Dallas, made his Penguins debut Tuesday night, and accomplished defensive beast Douglas Murray, acquired 24 hours later from San Jose, is likely ready to make his Thursday night, meaning the bulked up, fully functional Penguins might not be merely the hottest team in hockey, they might be ...

Well, let's not get ahead of ourselves.

Perhaps we should first put any potential conclusions in order, starting with the status of goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury, who left after almost two periods of what would become only the fourth combined shutout in franchise history.

"Hopefully, Flower's OK," said Sidney Crosby, whose 15th goal was all the scoring necessary for a hockey team playing defense like it rarely has in its history.

Can Crosby even remember a stretch in which the Penguins allowed only nine goals in nine games?

"No," he laughed. "It's the result of us focusing on it, and obviously we do, but I think you have to give a lot of credit to our goaltenders. We focus on it and try to do our best, but sometimes they've got to bail you out and they've done a heckuva job keeping pucks out of our net."

The Penguins hadn't lost a game this season that they led after two periods, so Crosby's blistering wrist shot past Carey Price at 13:19 of the middle period carried with it all kinds of ominous implications for Montreal.

It meant, for example, that the Canadiens had failed to score first, a circumstance in which they were 16-3-3, and it further meant that on a night when Montreal carried the action right to the Penguins, holding them not only scoreless but stone-shotless for nine minutes in one stretch of the first period, nothing of any capricious nature was going the Canadiens' way.

Teams that don't get a lead in those circumstances can let their discouragement manifest in a loss that probably is highly avoidable.

The indomitable constant was Pittsburgh's defense, and Orpik pointed out that there's probably not an ounce of luck involved in the effort that unleashes it.

"There's nothing in recent memory like this," said Orpik. "It's obvious we knew the way the playoffs went last year [allowing 30 goals in six games against Philadelphia] and even like the Montreal game up there that we won, 7-6, there was a handful of games that we won early this year that were 5-4, 6-5, stuff like that.

"When you leave the rink after the game and you've won the game and you're not really satisfied with the way you've won, then you know you gotta change something up. I think everyone has bought into what we're doing and it starts right from Sid.

"It's Sid and guys like him who are used to getting a lot of points. They're putting team goals way ahead of individual goals and as a result I think we realize what our ultimate goal here is, and I think everyone's bought into that, too."

These Penguins are only the eighth team in league history to win 13 in a row, and that's already a record of sorts. The Penguins have never won 13 games in one calendar month, as they have right here right now. Once, they won 16 games in an entire season, 1983-84, which allowed them to draft Mario Lemieux.

He and Jaromir Jagr and Ron Francis and Rick Tocchet -- we might as well mention them while we have the chance -- won 17 in a row on this spot on the calendar 20 years ago.

None of them would mind seeing that NHL record disappear before April 6.

Officially, no one's thinking about that.

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Gene Collier: First Published March 27, 2013 4:00 AM


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