Penguins hope for fast start on road, too

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A quick glance, or even a fairly long look, at the first three games this season leads to an awfully good impression.

The Penguins would like to remind anyone just tuning in and trying to catch up -- for example, those who have previously been preoccupied with the Pirates -- that their 3-0 start and some accompanying upward trends are not quite enough reasons to pencil in a division or conference title yet, not with 79 games to go.

"I don't think the sample size is one where you can draw too much from," coach Dan Bylsma said Thursday after practice at Southpointe. "You can get too crazy with that.

"There are some certain things we've done well, but I don't think there's been anywhere close to our best game or what we can do. I think there are lots of areas we can get better in."

There are two things the Penguins haven't done yet, if only because they have not had the chance: play on the road and play in games on successive nights. They will address those things with games tonight at Florida and Saturday at Tampa Bay.

"It's nice to start with the first few games at home," center Brandon Sutter said. "I don't think many teams have the luxury of doing that.

"It's important we got those wins, but now we're on the road, and we're back to back, so it's the first big challenge from the schedule."

While they were at home for those first three games --besides becoming one of four clubs that were 3-0 going into Thursday -- the Penguins put together quite a significant portfolio, even if it is just a snapshot:

• They have not trailed at any time, have 12 goals and have held opponents to an average of one goal a game, with goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury stopping 96.3 percent of the shots he has faced.

• They have gotten points from players up and down the lineup, from Sidney Crosby (four points) and Jussi Jokinen (three goals), to Craig Adams and Chuck Kobasew (two goals each), to rookie defenseman Olli Maatta (two assists).

• Their penalty-killing is perfect in six attempts, while their power play has clicked on a third of its six chances.

• They have outhit each opponent, outshot two of them, been better than all three in faceoffs. In fact, before Thursday, the Penguins led the NHL by winning 58 percent of their faceoffs.

Right winger Chris Kunitz figured that anyone who tracked the exhibition games might be surprised by their start in the regular season.

"I don't think preseason went all that well, the way that we approached and played a lot of games," he said. "I think our last [preseason] game, against Detroit, we played the way we wanted to in the first period. I think that's a trend [now] -- coming out hard, making the other teams play on their heels. That's been some of our success."

Kunitz pointed to some unwanted carryover, in particular lulls in a couple of games after they got a lead, something that might have been overlooked or forgotten by those outside of the organization because the Penguins eventually won those games.

Bylsma also noted that his team was 0 for 3 on the power play through two games and he saw the word "struggle" attached to it, but a 2-for-3 night in the 5-2 win Tuesday night against Carolina boosted the Penguins to seventh in the NHL, at 33.3 percent, before Thursday.

While trends this early can be deceiving, Bylsma has noticed an effect.

"All three games are pretty close to the same blueprint of coming out and ... dictating and pushing the pace back at the other team," he said.

"That's produced first-period leads. I think that's given our team a lot of confidence in the way we've played.

"We've had a lot of guys chip in, different players. When your team is playing that way and you get results from it, you see your team play with a lot of confidence."

Kobasew, whose strong training camp on a professional tryout earned him a contract, has gotten a crash-course in the Penguins mentality.

"I'm learning how the expectations are around here," he said.

"The standards are set high, which is great.

"We've played well, but there are areas of our game we feel we can improve. You're looking to put together wins. We've done that. Realizing that there are areas that we can get better is a good thing."

Kobasew called that "fine-tuning."

"Now we go on the road," he said.

"We've got a whole set of different challenges."


Shelly Anderson:, 412-263-1721 and Twitter @pgshelly. First Published October 10, 2013 8:00 PM


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