On the Penguins: Several potential wins have gotten away

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Montreal set an NHL record when it lost just eight games during the 1976-77 season.

Jim Roberts, a utility man on that team who later was an assistant coach with the Penguins, once remarked that coach Scott Bowman came down hard on his players after every one of those defeats.

Bowman probably didn't care much for Montreal's 12 ties that winter, either.

The point is, even the most impressive seasons have low points and blemishes, and the Penguins' 2010-11 season is no exception.

They have remained remarkably competitive, given how many man-games their core players have lost because of injuries, and should breach the 100-point plateau for the fourth time in five years.

Not bad for a club that has about $24 million worth of salary-cap space tied up in players in various stages of recuperation and rehabilitation. And which has, at various points in recent months, been considerably worse off than it is now.

Still, the Penguins might have been close to celebrating an Eastern Conference, championship, not just competing for one, by now if they hadn't lost a number of games they could have -- and, most often, should have -- won over the course of the past five-plus months.

A sampling:

Oct. 13: Toronto runs off three unanswered goals in a 7:29 span of the second period en route to a 4-3 victory at Consol Energy Center.

Oct. 27: The Penguins build a 3-1 lead by 12:15 of the opening period at Tampa, then watch the Lightning score the final four.

Nov. 3: Every version of the 2010-11 schedule noted that the Penguins had a game in Dallas on this night, but that didn't stop them from being virtual no-shows for a 5-2 defeat by the Stars.

Nov. 10: Boston puts up five unanswered goals in the third period of a 7-4 victory at Consol Energy Center.

Nov. 15: New York defenseman Marc Staal scores a shorthanded goal at 18:34 of the third period to force overtime at Consol Energy Center, and Ryan Callahan gets the game-winner for the Rangers at 3:38 of overtime.

Dec. 15: The Rangers put together another fantastic finish, scoring four times in the final half of the third period in a 4-1 victory at Consol Energy Center.

Dec. 26: The Penguins, apparently unaware that the NHL's holiday break had ended, spot Ottawa a 3-0 lead at Scotiabank Place in what becomes a 3-1 defeat.

Jan. 8: The Penguins are completely outclassed in every facet by an opponent that shouldn't be able to do it in any of them in a 4-0 loss at home to Minnesota.

Jan. 10: Boston produces a sequel to the Nov. 10 nightmare, generating four goals during the final 3:23 of regulation to steal a 4-2 victory at Consol Energy Center.

March 12: Maybe the Penguins wouldn't have been able to defeat Montreal in this 3-0 loss at home, even if they'd competed from the earliest moments of play. That will never get past being hypothetical, though.

The cold numbers of Goligoski deal

The Penguins had a lot of expectations when they made the trade that brought left winger James Neal and defenseman Matt Niskanen from Dallas for defenseman Alex Goligoski last month.

That Goligoski would outscore both of them, combined, probably wasn't on the list.

But Neal, who has one goal and two assists in 10 games, and Niskanen, who has a goal and an assist in eight, have put up a total of five points; Goligoski had one goal and seven assists in 12 games with the Stars before they faced Philadelphia Saturday night.

The Penguins obviously like a lot of what Neal brings -- skilled wingers who play such a physical style are a rare and valuable commodity -- but they won't mind when he starts hitting the net with the regularity his history suggests is reasonable to expect.

The Week Ahead

Today: New York Rangers ... For reasons listed above, the Rangers don't seem to mind visiting Consol Energy Center. Probably wish the Penguins had moved there a few decades ago, actually.

Monday: At Detroit ... A third Stanley Cup final meeting in four years looks to be a real long shot, but when these teams meet, the intensity always is high, even if the stakes aren't.

Thursday: At Philadelphia ... Did someone mention fierce rivals? The Penguins and Flyers co-exist in a way that only a cobra and mongoose could appreciate. That a division title could be in play at the Wells Fargo Center should only enhance the hatred.

Friday: New Jersey ... The Devils can't sweep the Penguins again this season, but New Jersey doesn't often donate points to them, either. Especially when the Devils haven't given up on their improbable surge toward a playoff spot.

Dave Molinari: dmolinari@post-gazette.com .


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