On the Penguins: Play the cards you're dealt

The Penguins have sold out their past 301 games at Consol Energy Center, and they’re pretty proud of it.

Should be, too.

It says a lot about the fan base the franchise has developed since the days when it couldn't give away tickets if they had $20 bills stapled to them, as well as the quality of the product it has been putting on the ice since around the middle of the last decade.

Several of the game's most dynamic talents can be found on the Penguins payroll -- most teams would feel exceptionally fortunate to have Sidney Crosby or Evgeni Malkin, let alone both, on their depth chart -- and all of the time, effort and creativity management has invested in cultivating young fans for so many years is paying off. Literally.

All of which assures that every seat in the place is spoken for anytime the Penguins play a home game.

But there is a bit of a downside to their success at selling tickets: It has contributed to them having a schedule that could be construed as someone in the league office having a grudge against them.

Maybe a mean streak.

Or, at the very least, a warped sense of humor.

What better explanation for how they ended up with nine home dates between Oct. 3 and Nov. 1?

And because their sellout streak suggests the Penguins could pack the building if they were compelled to play the majority of their home games at 2:45 a.m. on Tuesdays -- and because their lineup is so generously laced with players who lure fans out of their living rooms and into arenas -- they don't get many home games on days that tend to be most popular with their followers.

They will, for example, play just five games at Consol Energy Center on Saturdays this season -- that's two fewer than there will be on Mondays -- but they have 15 away games on that day.

Their game Saturday night in Boston marked the seventh consecutive Saturday the Penguins played in another city, and that streak will reach eight when they visit Detroit in six days.

Selling tickets isn't a problem in every town in which the Penguins will play on a Saturday in 2013-14 -- there's ample demand in places such as Boston and Montreal and Toronto, among others -- but there definitely are some clubs that appreciate the bump in attendance a visit by the Penguins can bring.

The Penguins' ability to attract a crowd on the road, whether it's primarily fans of theirs who live elsewhere or people who simply enjoy jeering them, impacts them in another way, as well: They routinely have game times altered for the benefit of network television, which seems to put them on at almost every opportunity.

For a while, they were a fixture on the NBC Sports Network's Wednesday night rivalry series -- someone at NBCSN apparently concluded that the Penguins have an ongoing rivalry with nearly everyone except the Kansas City Scouts -- and that translated to a series of later-than-usual starts, both at home and on the road.

Aside from a game Nov. 6 at Madison Square Garden that began at 7:38 -- a starting time people associated with the broadcast said privately stemmed from a union-related issue in that building -- those games started a bit after 8 p.m., a full hour later than the Penguins' starting time of choice.

The Rivalries series isn't all that has forced the Penguins to switch the starting time for some home games.

Their game Monday night against Columbus, for example, was pushed back to 7:38 because NBCSN determined that the rest of the country simply shouldn't have to try to get through the evening without having a chance to look in on the Penguins and Blue Jackets.

That a delayed start might again inconvenience Consol Energy Center patrons clearly didn't matter.

And unless Penguins games begin to generate disappointing ratings, that isn't likely to change.

Now, it's worth noting that the Penguins undoubtedly feel obliged to accept their schedule without much complaint, because they had favorable ones when selling tickets was an issue for them.

They also owe the league for the support commissioner Gary Bettman gave when the franchise's future was far from secure. His backing, at least publicly, was unwavering. That debt, however, is being paid off. One unattractive home date, one delayed start at a time.

The Penguins have sold out their past 301 games at Consol Energy Center, and they're pretty proud of it. Should be, too.

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The week ahead

Monday: vs. Columbus ... The Blue Jackets, who appeared to be poised for a breakout season, continue to bob along on the dark side of .500.

Friday: vs. New Jersey ... Penguins have won seven of their past nine home games against the Devils, including a 3-0 victory in the season opener.

Saturday: at Detroit ... The Penguins and Red Wings collide as members of the same conference for the first time in decades.

Dave Molinari: Dmolinari@Post-Gazette.com or Twitter @MolinariPG.

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