Pens' improved team defense pays off


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Thirty goals in six games.

"You score 30 goals in six games, there's no reason you shouldn't win," Penguins defenseman Brooks Orpik said Wednesday.

That's the number of goals the Penguins have in a six-game winning streak they will carry into their game tonight against the Maple Leafs in Toronto.

It's also the number of goals they had in a stinging six-game loss to Philadelphia in the opening round of the 2012 Stanley Cup playoffs.

The difference in those two six-game stretches is, in some ways, immense.

"I think we learned in the playoffs last year that you can score as many goals as you want and you're not guaranteed anything," Orpik said.

Part of it is better team defense. The Flyers also scored 30 goals in that playoff series. In the Penguins current win streak, opponents have scored 20.

"We're really doing a good job with the puck, but also [playing] responsibly away from the puck in minimizing [opponent] opportunities," Penguins coach Dan Bylsma said. "That's something we're priding ourselves on right now. It's allowed us to win some hockey games some different ways. That's, I think, key for our team."

The six wins in a row have come in varying ways. The Penguins:

• Won a scoring frenzy, 7-6, March 2 in Montreal on Brandon Sutter's overtime goal.

• Held off Tampa Bay, 4-3, March 4 at home with Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin each getting a goal and an assist.

• Overcame a 4-1 first-period deficit to beat Philadelphia, 5-4, March 7 on the road with Chris Kunitz scoring two goals, including the winner.

• Allowed the Maple Leafs to come back from a two-goal, third-period deficit but won, 5-4, when Crosby and James Neal scored in the shootout and goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury stoned the Toronto shooters Saturday at Air Canada Centre.

• Blew out the New York Islanders, 6-1, Sunday at home on Kunitz's hat trick and Crosby's five assists.

• Came back with three goals in the final seven minutes of regulation, two by Sutter, Tuesday to beat Boston, 3-2, while holding the Bruins to 16 shots.

Winning consistently and in so many ways can help as the final six weeks of the regular season and the playoffs approach.

"Definitely," Fleury said. "When it comes to crunch time, you've been through it. You overcome it and you know you can do it. The confidence is there.

"We find ways to win -- coming back or keeping our lead. I think we believe [in ourselves], but we also know that we've got to improve on some points. I don't think we're cocky about it. We know what we're doing wrong."

The biggest problem area likely is their penalty-killing, where the Penguins ranked 25th at 78.2 percent going into Wednesday.

A couple of weeks ago, team defense could have been on such a list, particularly after successive losses at Florida and Carolina, the games before the winning streak.

"After the Carolina game, the mentality of our team has been, we're going to go out and we're going to play and we're going to keep playing," Bylsma said. "We're going to have that mentality that we're going to keep playing our way.

"Whether it's a bad call, a referee's call, a penalty-kill that doesn't work out -- whatever the situation, we're going to keep playing. I think you've seen that in this stretch of hockey."

A couple of newcomers appreciate what they have seen.

"The thing that has stuck out to me thus far is our mental toughness," said Mark Eaton, a former Penguins defenseman who recently re-signed with the club.

"We've been behind in a lot of games and [found] ways to win. The attitude and the mental part of the game is something you really can't work on. It's nice to have that."

Rookie winger Beau Bennett was promoted in mid-February and has settled in after his first dozen NHL games. He has been impressed with what he has seen.

"In training camp, you kind of see the skill level of all these guys," Bennett said. "You come in here as a call-up and you just want to fit in.

"This roll that we've been on shows how our team has been pretty tenacious. We've really been sticking with our game and wearing teams down."

Eaton pointed out that having highly skilled players that dot the NHL scoring rankings is "something you can't really teach, either, and we have some of the best talent in the league," but he doesn't carry the baggage of the loss in the playoffs to the rival Flyers by a Penguins team picked by many to win the Stanley Cup.

"I think we learned more from that than we have this [winning] streak," Orpik said. "This streak is more applying what we learned from last year.

"We've really only played one bad period in this streak -- against Philly in the first period. Other than that, I think we've been really good."

On the March

A look at the Penguins' six-game winning streak since the beginning of the month. (Home games.)

Date Opponent Final

3/2 Canadiens 7-6 (OT)

3/4Lightning4-3

3/7 Flyers 5-4

3/9 Maple Leafs 5-4

3/10Islanders6-1

3/12Bruins3-2

Today

Game: Penguins vs. Maple Leafs, 7 p.m. Air Canada Centre, Toronto.

TV: Root Sports.

mobilehome - penguins

For much more on the Penguins, read the Pens Plus blog with Dave Molinari and Shelly Anderson at www.post-gazette.com/plus. Shelly Anderson: shanderson@post-gazette.com, 412-263-1721 or Twitter: @pgshelly. First Published March 14, 2013 4:00 AM


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