The Penguins have scored a total of three goals in their past two games.
Three goals. Two games.
Not much mystery about what that calculus usually means.
The only uncertainty -- on the off-chance there was any -- generally would focus on just how lopsided their losses would be.
Not this time, though.
They beat the New York Rangers, 1-0, at Mellon Arena last night, just 48 hours after a 2-1 victory in Washington. And while no one is going to confuse the Penguins with, say, the Minnesota Wild, they appreciate the importance of faring well in low-scoring games.
"I wouldn't go as far as saying it's our new identity, but it's definitely a good sign," defenseman Brooks Orpik said. "Especially on top of the way we were playing the first five or so games, giving up a lot of goals."
Goalie Marc-Andre Fleury got the shutout -- his first of the season and eighth in the NHL -- by turning aside 36 shots. And even though two Rangers shots slammed off goalposts, no one denied that Fleury came by his shutout honestly.
"You see the last two games what type of goalie he is," defenseman Ryan Whitney said. "So everyone who was panicking can take a deep breath."
The Penguins (5-3) have won three consecutive games for the first time this season. The Rangers, meanwhile, are 0-3-1 in their past four and have not scored a goal in 126 minutes.
"That's hockey sometimes," Penguins center Sidney Crosby said. "As teams, as individuals, we all go through situations like that. It's not a good feeling at all ... but that's part of playing hockey."
What has to be particularly exasperating for New York is that it has allowed just one goal during regulation or overtime in its past two games, but has a single point -- secured in a 1-0 shootout loss in Boston Saturday -- to show for it.
Evgeni Malkin got the only goal last night when he scored on a power play 44 seconds into the second period. Malkin, stationed at the right side of the crease, fought off New York defenseman Marek Malik's attempt to tie up his stick and nudged a cross-ice feed from Whitney past Rangers goalie Henrik Lundqvist.
"It was a surprise for me," Malkin said though an interpreter. "I was just holding my stick on the ice. I got the pass from Whitney and it just went in the net off my blade.
"It looked like it was taking forever [to cross the goal line]. I saw the goaltender was not reaching the puck, so I started celebrating [before] the puck went into the net."
Penguins forward Jordan Staal was awarded a penalty shot 26 seconds later, after Rangers defenseman Fedor Tyutin was called for throwing his stick at Staal while trying to foil a breakaway, but Lundqvist easily rejected Staal's wrist shot from above the hash marks.
Didn't matter, though. Fleury and his teammates made Malkin's goal stand up, something that would have been unthinkable during the first two weeks of the season, when the Penguins' goals-against average appeared to be drifting toward double-digits.
"There are a lot of guys in this room who knew they could play better," Orpik said. "A lot of blame was put on [Fleury], but I think a lot of it was in front of him. Some of [the criticism] might have been fair, but a lot of it was unjust."
Although the Penguins have the personnel to win 6-5 and 5-4 games, that does not diminish the value of playing well in their own zone.
"I mentioned to the team about a week ago that if they don't play well defensively, they're not going to make the playoffs," coach Michel Therrien said. "We addressed that, and it showed."
Therrien might want to remind his players sometime in the next few days that they also are allowed to score more than once or twice. Then again, while getting lots of goals is great for the ego, the Penguins seem to have grasped that what truly counts is having one more than the other guys.
"A win is a win," Malkin said. "Two points for the team. That's what matters. We can win 5-0 or 6-5 or 1-0. It doesn't matter."
Dave Molinari can be reached at DWMolinari@Yahoo.com . First Published October 24, 2007 4:00 AM