The Penguins celebrate a hat trick completed by Sidney Crosby at PPG Paints Arena against the Florida Panthers.
By Dave Molinari / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
OK, so the Penguins get the last personnel change when they’re playing at PPG Paints Arena.
Then again, so do the other 29 NHL clubs when they play at home.
The Penguins also have the benefit of a supportive, capacity crowd – their sellout streak reached 466 when 18,653 fans turned out for their 4-0 victory over Florida Sunday – anytime they play here.
Still, their arena hardly constitutes a hostile setting for visiting clubs.
There are no quirky features, like the undersized ice surfaces once found in Chicago, Buffalo and Boston.
No routinely abusive crowds, such as the ones the Penguins have faced so often over the decades in Philadelphia, among other places.
Nonetheless, the Penguins have had home-ice success unmatched in the NHL this season.
“We feel really comfortable in this barn,” right winger Patric Hornqvist said.
As they should, considering that they are 29-4-3 at PPG Paints Arena. That’s the most victories and fewest regulation losses at home for any team in the league.
“We’ve been taking care of business at home,” center Matt Cullen said. “That’s an important part of having a successful season.”
It seems, however, that winning games there is easier for the Penguins than explaining why they’re able to do it so consistently. Indeed, they are threatening to match the franchise record of 32 home victories, set in 1992-93.
Oh, having quality personnel obviously plays a part. When a team has someone who leads the league in goal-scoring, as Sidney Crosby does, and goalies who can stop everything thrown at them, as Marc-Andre Fleury did against the Panthers, the odds of winning tend to spike.
But the Penguins are not the only team in the NHL with gifted scorers and stingy goalies. Or, for that matter, quality coaching.
But they are the only one to earn 61 of a possible 72 points on home ice in 2016-17.
“Obviously, we like being here,” Cullen said. “There’s always good energy in the building and it’s a fun place to play.”
There doesn’t seem to be all that many of those for the Penguins when they venture out of town. Their road record of 16-13-6 is fairly ordinary for a team with their pedigree.
“We have the same system, we have the same guys [on the road],” Fleury said. “I couldn’t pinpoint one reason why [they thrive at home].”
Actually, they’ve been dominant at home for more than a year.
They lost their first three games on home ice after Mike Sullivan replaced Mike Johnston as coach in mid-December of 2015, but have gone 47-8-5 there since.
“We do seem to come out with some pretty good life in this building,” Cullen said. “We’ve just found a way to win a lot of hockey games here the last two years.”
More often than not, they’ve done it with offense. Their home-ice defensive record this season is middle-of-the-pack – they’re giving up an average of 2.53 goals per game – but the Penguins are generating a league-best average of 3.97.
Turns out that having talents like Crosby, Evgeni Malkin and Phil Kessel, among others, on the payroll is a major plus, after all.
Defenseman Ian Cole acknowledged the role quality players have had in the Penguins’ home record, but also volunteered a explanation that is not only outside the box, but off the ice.
“I’m going to give a lot of credit to the Pittsburgh Penguins,” he said. “The team, the organization. Our owners. They’ve put countless dollars into making this an unbelievable facility for us.
“Getting us a chef, getting us the best nutrition. I think that you see that when we have those benefits, that would translate to a good home record.”
Or, in their case, the best.
Dave Molinari: Dmolinari@Post-Gazette.com and Twitter @MolinariPG
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