Penguins get franchise-record 13th consecutive home win, 4-3 over Capitals



The greatest teams in the history of this franchise -- the ones featuring Hall of Famers such as Mario Lemieux, Ron Francis, Paul Coffey and Larry Murphy among others -- couldn't do it.

Neither could the ones built around such formidable figures as Jean Pronovost, Syl Apps, Lowell MacDonald and Dave Burrows.

But the club that has had to count on contributions from the likes of Nick Drazenovic, Harry Zolnierczyk and Pierre-Luc Latourneau-Leblond could.

Did.

And has a piece of history to show for it, for the Penguins' 4-3 victory against the Washington Capitals Wednesday night at Consol Energy Center was their 13th in a row on home ice.

That's the most for any Penguins club since they entered the NHL in 1967.

Even for a group that has made a habit of defying logic and adversity since early this season -- the Penguins' unofficial man-games lost because of injuries total has swollen to 289 -- it is a most improbable feat.

"It might not be the year you'd typically think it would happen, that's for sure," center Sidney Crosby said.

"But I think it says a lot about the guys who have come in, the job they've done and the attitude and mindset of everybody here.

"All the way through, that [streak] doesn't come without everyone who's playing finding ways to be prepared and go out there and compete."

It doesn't come without consistent excellence by their most important players, either.

Such as Crosby, who has a point in 17 consecutive home games.

And Evgeni Malkin, who set up Olli Maatta's winning goal at 18:06 of the third period.

And goalie Marc-Andre Fleury, who rejected 25 of 28 shots to run his record in his past 34 decisions at home to 31-3.

The victory raised the Penguins' record to 34-12-2 and stretched their lead over Washington and the Philadelphia Flyers, who are tied for second place in the Metropolitan Division, to 18 points.

They probably won't be able to clinch the division title before the Olympic break begins in a few weeks, but they might not be all that far away from doing it, either.

There have been times this season when the Penguins made winning look easy, but Wednesday night wasn't one of them, however, as they never led until rookie defenseman Maatta scored in the waning minutes of regulation.

"It felt like a battle, a grind out there," Fleury said.

The Penguins' problems began long before Brooks Laich gave Washington a 1-0 lead with a short-handed goal at 13:09 of the opening period, as second-line right winger James Neal had to be scratched because of an unspecified injury.

Taylor Pyatt was plugged into the hole Neal's absence created and responded by scoring his first goal as a Penguins player and setting a screen that made Maatta's winner possible, but that wasn't the only significant personnel move coach Dan Bylsma made.

He also grafted Brandon Sutter, who normally centers the third line, onto right wing of the No. 1 line, with Sidney Crosby and Chris Kunitz. Sutter set up Jussi Jokinen for the Penguins' third goal.

Jokinen's goal erased the third one-goal deficit the Penguins faced over the course of the game.

"There wasn't quit in our game," Bylsma said. "A 60-minute game. We kept playing, kept going.

"It's tough to scratch out [a win] coming from behind, but this group continued to show that they can win games different ways."

Maatta gave them the victory when he took a pass from Malkin, then threw a shot toward Capitals goalie Michal Neuvirth from the top of the left circle.

"There was a lot of traffic in front," Neuvirth said. "They did it all night long. ... It was just a good shot, short side."

Good enough to give Maatta and his teammates -- even the ones who might not be around long enough to learn the best route to the airport -- a victory that earned them a niche in the annals of this franchise.

"It's not that easy to win 13 [home] games in a row," Jokinen said. "All those players they had here, it makes it even more special. And how many guys we've had missing during this stretch.

"We've had so many guys coming in from Wilkes-Barre and doing their job and bringing in their energy. We like how we've been playing.

"It's still a long season ahead of us, but I like how we are playing right now."


Dave Molinari: Dmolinari@Post-Gazette.com and Twitter @MolinariPG. First Published January 15, 2014 10:43 PM

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