Momentum starting to build for Penguins
With shopping partner Penguins' forward Sidney Crosby in tow with his winter clothing selections, Austin Paterson, 10, shops for a winter hat during a Project Bundle-up shopping outing at Dick''s Sporting Goods in the Mall at Robinson yesterday.
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It was just a few days ago that assessments of the Penguins led to a laundry list of concerns.
The goaltending was suspect. So was the defense. Some of the top players weren't scoring.
While some of that was true, it was also true that the season was just a couple weeks old.
"Nobody was happy with the way we were playing, but it's not like a football team -- not like the Steelers where you lose one and it's [gloom and doom]," defenseman Brooks Orpik said yesterday. "We play 82 games."
- Matchup: Penguins vs. New York Rangers, 7:08 p.m. today, Mellon Arena.
- TV, radio: Versus, WXDX-FM (105.9).
- Probable goaltenders: Marc-Andre Fleury for Penguins. Henrik Lundqvist for Rangers.
- Penguins: Were 5-1-2 vs. Rangers last season, 3-0-1 at home. ??? Fleury is 6-0-2 with a 2.31 goals-against average his past eight games vs. Rangers. ??? Through yesterday, were 27.3 percent on power play at home, tied for third in league.
- Rangers: Are 0-3-1 on road. ??? Are 3 for 21 on power play over past three games and have been held without a power-play goal in five of seven games. ??? Lundqvist is 7-3-3 with 2.26 goals-against average in 13 career starts vs. Penguins.
- Hidden stat: Saturday's 1-0 shootout loss to Boston was Rangers' first 0-0 game through 65 minutes since Oct. 16, 2003, a 0-0 tie with Atlanta.
It took only two of those 82 to change perceptions.
Wins Friday at home against Carolina and Saturday at Washington gave the Penguins successive victories for the first time, nudged them above .500 (4-3), raised their record in one-goal games to 3-2, lowered their goals-against average from 4.00 to 3.39, and moved them from a tie for last in the Atlantic Division to third and from 13th in the Eastern Conference to seventh going into last night's games.
"We start off 2-2, 2-3, around .500, and everybody's calling for people's heads," Orpik said. "But there was no panic in here."
The Penguins can pad their stretch of solid games during a three-game homestand that begins tonight in a nationally televised Versus game against the New York Rangers, a team that has struggled offensively.
Toronto comes to Mellon Arena Thursday, followed Saturday by Montreal.
"This is a big week," winger Mark Recchi said. "I think it's important that we keep things going in the right direction. We're going to have bumps throughout the season, but right now we've got a couple of huge wins and we've got to keep building momentum from that."
Momentum that could have been aided by a stretch of three games in four nights that began Wednesday with a 5-4 loss to New Jersey. Before that, the Penguins had played their first four games over a leisurely 12 days.
Things don't slow much, with 13 games in the next 26 days.
"We're more in the groove to play games," coach Michel Therrien said. "It's good for the players, good for their confidence."
So is pulling out close games.
Since a 4-1 loss at Carolina to open the season, five of the Penguins' ensuing six games have been decided by one goal, including a 4-3 shootout win Saturday against the Hurricanes. The other, a 6-4 win at Toronto, included an empty-net goal so it had the feel of a one-goal game.
All those one-goal games help define teams.
"Especially when you're successful, it's great because you're learning how to win and do the right things," Recchi said. "If you do that and you're a successful hockey club, then you know how to close out those games and it makes a big difference."
In their three one-goal wins, the Penguins have had to come from behind.
"Those are the kind of games you have to win, those tight games where one mistake can cost you and doing things right can help you win," winger Colby Armstrong said.
The past two games, the Penguins addressed a couple specific concerns.
Backup goaltender Dany Sabourin played his first full game Friday against Carolina and stopped 29 of 32 shots, plus the winning save in the shootout. Starter Marc-Andre Fleury limited Washington to one goal on 31 shots and showed improvement in puck-handling. In addition, second-year forward Jordan Staal scored his first goal, and Sidney Crosby had three assists over the two games and scored the shootout winner against the Hurricanes.
So much for the worrywarts who were on the outside looking in.
"We tried not to let a lot of those things get to us," Armstrong said. "We knew that we could play better as a unit. It's great that we won a couple games, but we've got to keep moving forward."
That's better than looking back, even if the players refused to get caught up in the mounting concerns surrounding them.
"None of us were panicking," Recchi said. "We understood we had still had to play good hockey, and we still have a ways to go.
"That's the good thing -- we know we can still get better as a team and we're going to keep working at it."
First Published October 23, 2007 12:00 am