Penguins' Derrick Pouliot, Carl Hagelin and Ian Cole congratulate Scott Wilson on his goal against the Jets in the third period Saturday at Consol Energy Center.
By Dave Molinari / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
The Penguins have been, on a lot of levels, a pretty ordinary team this season.
Their 31-21-8 record is good for the second wild-card spot in the Eastern Conference, but certainly is nothing special.
Their goals-for, goals-against and power play conversion rates are decidedly middle-of-the-pack, too.
But there is at least one statistic – a pretty meaningful one, at that – at which the Penguins have no equal in 2015-16: They are the only team in the NHL that hasn’t lost a game in regulation when leading after two periods.
Their 4-1 victory against Winnipeg at Consol Energy Center Saturday makes them 24-0 when in front at the end of 40 minutes.
And while there’s no guarantee that streak will go on indefinitely, the Penguins contend it’s no coincidence that they’ve done so well holding leads in the third period.
“We work at it,” goalie Marc-Andre Fleury said. “That’s a good sign, that we have a group that can shut it down.”
Winnipeg outshot them, 11-10, during the final period Saturday, but the Penguins scored the only two goals in the period to turn a 2-1 advantage into a three-goal victory.
Center Sidney Crosby smiled and allowed that “we’ve had some close calls” in the third this season, but didn’t dispute the idea that the Penguins have shown a decent killer instinct under those circumstances.
“You want to have that mentality, obviously, that if you get a lead, you want to make sure you don’t let teams back in it,” he said.
The victory put the Penguins one point behind Detroit, which holds the first wild-card spot in the East, pending the outcome of the Red Wings’ game at Colorado Saturday night.
The Penguins have a three-point lead over Philadelphia and New Jersey, their closest competitors for the final wild-card spot. They have three games in hand on the Devils, one on the Flyers.
The Penguins lost winger Conor Sheary in the second period with an unspecified injury.
It was not immediately clear whether that will have an impact on general manager Jim Rutherford’s previously stated intention to not aggressively seek a forward before the NHL trade deadline Monday at 3 p.m.
While they lost Sheary, the Penguins had centers Evgeni Malkin and Nick Bonino return to the lineup after extended absences because of injury.
Malkin, who had missed the previous 10 games, did not have a point, but did have an impact.
“I thought he made some real nice plays out there,” coach Mike Sullivan said. “His line is a different line when he’s there.”
Coincidentally or otherwise, Malkin’s left winger, Carl Hagelin, scored two goals for the first time since joining the Penguins in a trade Jan. 16.
“I’ve been feeling good in a lot of games, creating a lot of chances,” he said. “Just haven’t put the puck in. Today, I got to the net a little bit more, maybe.
Hagelin’s second goal, at 10:02 of the third, closed out the scoring and assured that the Penguins’ run of victories when leading after 40 minutes would continue.
A key to starting, then sustaining, that streak has been remaining fairly aggressive offensively, trying to add to leads rather than simply protect them.
“We’re trying to build a way that we want to play that’s going to be successful in the playoffs,” defenseman Derrick Pouliot said. “If you can continue to push teams in the third period with a lead, that’s a pretty good recipe for success.”
Dave Molinari: Dmolinari@Post-Gazette.com and Twitter @MolinariPG.
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