Penguins enjoying the comforts of home

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The Penguins this season might rival Merriam-Webster in defining that word.

They return to Consol Energy Center tonight against the Washington Capitals after a three-game trip to western Canada with quite an agenda.

• They have won 12 home games in a row and would set a franchise record with a 13th.

• At 19-3-0, they have the best home record in the Eastern Conference. They have the most goals at home in the East (89).

• Goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury has won nine home decisions in a row over a two-month stretch and would equal the second-longest streak of his career with a win.

That much is easy to quantify. But why are the Penguins so good at home?

“That’s a good question,” center and team captain Sidney Crosby said Tuesday after practice at Consol Energy Center. “I don’t have a great explanation.

“It’s always a place you want to establish as being tough to play against. We know that there are certain teams in the league that when you go to their rinks, you notice their starts or you see that they play a little more aggressively. You want to try to establish that when you’re at your own home rink. I think we’ve tried to do that.

“Besides that, I don’t know if there’s one specific thing we’ve tried to do differently.”

Fleury, so confident in the home nets, also struggled to account for the team’s prowess at Consol Energy Center,

“I don’t know,” he said, but he does know that nothing deters the Penguins when they are on home ice.

“It seems like it doesn’t matter who we play,” Fleury said. “It’s always about taking care of our game. It doesn’t matter what the score is. We can hold our leads or we can come back in games. We just find ways to win. It’s been a lot of fun.”

Perhaps it’s partly due to the crowd, which, at times, can be boisterous. Defenseman/winger Deryk Engelland expects that to be the case tonight. Washington is a longtime rival and will be making its first appearance here as a fellow member of the Metropolitan Division after offseason NHL realignment.

“It’s going to be high energy,” Engelland said. “The building should be pretty loud.”

Crosby and fellow Penguins center Evgeni Malkin have a longtime rivalry with Washington winger Alex Ovechkin. All are former league scoring champions and MVPs.

Crosby leads the NHL with 67 points in 47 games. Malkin, who has missed 11 games because of injury, and Ovechkin were tied for 11th with 46 points apiece before Washington played host to San Jose Tuesday, and Ovechkin led the league with 32 goals.

In the 20 games since 2006-07 when all three players have available to play in the matchup, Crosby, Malkin and the Penguins are 13-5-2 against Ovechkin and the Capitals.

It is NBC Sports Network’s rivalry game of the week, carrying an out-of-the-ordinary 8:08 p.m. start.

“Hopefully, San Jose beat up on them at home so, hopefully, they’ll be a little bit tired coming in here,” Penguins defenseman Brooks Orpik said slyly.

“But with the 8 o’clock start, I’m sure they’ll get a little rest and I’m sure they’ll get up for the game.”

The Penguins are expected to draw their 309th sellout in a row — dating to the now-razed Mellon/Civic Arena. They have drawn 5,462,531 fans during the streak, which includes regular-season and playoff games and which hit the 300 mark Nov. 27 during the team’s current home winning streak.

Of course, the Penguins road record (14-9-2) isn’t bad, either.

All those wins have the team comfortably in first place in the East and the Metropolitan Division with 68 points. Going into games Tuesday night, they had an eight-point bulge over Boston in the East and a 17-point lead on the Capitals and New York Rangers in the division.

“By no means does that make our games easier,” Fleury said. “Every night is tough to win.”

Washington is part of a jumble of the seven teams well behind the Penguins in the division, all seven within eight points of each other before Tuesday. That means they are playing with a certain level of desperation, particularly now that the second half of the NHL schedule is well underway.

The high-flying Penguins, in contrast, don’t feel as if they can afford to let complacency creep in, home or not. They are trying to match their opponents’ desperation.

“If you’re on a winning team or a team that has high expectations — and I think that’s a team we like to consider ourselves as — then those things aren’t easy to bring every night,” Crosby said. “You have to have those expectations. You have to find a way to make sure that when teams come in, they don’t outwork you.”

Shelly Anderson:, 412-263-1721 and Twitter @pgshelly.

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