The Penguins’ run of victories at Consol Energy Center can’t go on forever, of course.
No streak does.
But considering how poorly they played for so much of a 6-5 victory Sunday against the Winnipeg Jets — one that extended their home-ice streak to 12 games, tying the franchise record — the Penguins could be forgiven for wondering if maybe, just maybe, it isn’t going to end anytime soon.
Hey, if they can squeeze two points out of a performance like the one they turned in against the Jets, nothing should be ruled out.
It’s not just that the Penguins spotted Winnipeg a two-goal lead in the first period. Or that the Jets were able to generate two goals in the final 2½ minutes of the second period.
Or even that, when coach Dan Bylsma and his staff review the game tapes, they might wonder if someone inadvertently stuck a slapstick comedy in the video player.
No, the Penguins did a lot of things over the course of 60 minutes. Most of them poorly.
And still, it didn’t matter.
“I don’t think we were feeling too good about ourselves after the first period,” said defenseman Matt Niskanen, who scored the game-winning goal. “Probably not after the second, either. We weren’t very good.
“Even after the game, I think we all know we kind of stole one there. But playing at home, we seem to be finding a way.”
They always have, since a 2-1 loss Nov. 13 at home to Philadelphia.
And if anything, the way they stumbled to this victory might only reinforce the belief they have in themselves when playing at home, where they had gone 438 minutes and 19 seconds without trailing before Jacob Trouba gave Winnipeg the first of several leads 107 seconds into the game.
“It was probably a good confidence-builder for us that when we’re down, we’re going to come back,” left winger Jussi Jokinen said.
The Penguins were able to do that, in large part, because center Evgeni Malkin returned to the lineup after missing nine games with an apparent leg injury.
He contributed two goals and an assist and his linemates, James Neal and Jokinen, combined for another three goals and two assists.
The No. 1 line, with Sidney Crosby between Chris Kunitz and Brian Gibbons, chipped in only two assists, but Malkin and his linemates more than compensated.
“It’s always a big boost when you get a guy like that back,” Neal said. “Myself and [Jokinen] were obviously excited. We tried to feed off that. It looked like [Malkin] didn’t miss a beat out there.”
But more than a few of his teammates did.
Defenseman Brooks Orpik was guilty of one of the most conspicuous gaffes when he lost his balance — and the puck — while turning at the left point in the Winnipeg end late in the second period, leading to a breakaway that Evander Kane turned into the Jets’ fourth goal, but that hardly was the Penguins’ only miscue.
There were breakdowns all over ice, most obviously — and costly — in the defensive zone.
“We definitely didn’t have our ‘A’ game,” Neal said.
No, more like a C-minus. If graded on a generous curve.
The Jets’ self-assessment wasn’t terribly flattering, either.
“They gave us five goals,” Winnipeg coach Claude Noel said. “We gave them six. You give up six goals, that’s not the game plan.”
Actually, that often seems to be what these teams have in mind when they meet, because this isn’t the first time a game between them deteriorated into playground basketball on ice.
“There have been some wild ones,” Bylsma said.
Precisely how games between the Penguins and Jets here will unfold isn’t always easy to foresee, but how they will end is: The Penguins have won 13 consecutive home games against Winnipeg.
Not, of course, that the Jets are the only club that has learned what it’s like to leave Consol Energy Center empty-handed this season.
“We have a lot of confidence every time we play on home ice,” Jokinen said. “When we get to spring and the playoffs, hopefully we can keep playing well and get home ice all the way. It can be a big thing.”
First Published January 5, 2014 3:44 PM