Penguins Notebook: Penguins have an excellent shot at breaking Tampa Bay jinx
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TAMPA, Fla. -- The Penguins haven't won a game here in more than five years.
Fail to do it tonight, and it might be another five before circumstances for leaving the St. Pete Times Forum with a couple of points are this favorable again.
That's five decades, not seasons.
The Penguins, you see, have won seven games in a row, eight of their past nine and 16 of the past 21. They are playing their most sound hockey of the season, and Ty Conklin has been giving them the kind of reliable goaltending that helps to bring out the best in everyone.
Tampa Bay, meanwhile, will be at home for the first time after a four-game trip -- remember the adage about how difficult it is to play well in the first game back -- and is stranded at the bottom of the Eastern Conference standings with a 16-22-5 record.
Take all that data at face value, and it might be easy to conclude that a Penguins victory when they face the Lightning at 7:38 p.m. will be hockey's equivalent of a gimme putt.
Except they are 1-12-1 in their past 14 games here, and have lost 12 overall in a row (three in overtime or shootouts) to the Lightning the past three seasons.
While the Penguins can't explain why Tampa Bay consistently brings out the worst in them, they do seem intent on ending those futility streaks.
"Maybe it's just the style of play, but obviously we're looking to change that now," winger Ryan Malone said yesterday.
While Tampa Bay's season has been a major disappointment, the Lightning is 12-8-2 on home ice -- that's identical to the Penguins' record at Mellon Arena -- and has a nucleus of top-shelf talents such as Vincent Lecavalier, Martin St. Louis, Brad Richards and injured defenseman Dan Boyle.
"You can never count them out," said Penguins defenseman Darryl Sydor, who won a Stanley Cup with the Lightning in 2004. "They have quality players and quality coaches."
Defenseman Brooks Orpik doesn't have a goal in 165 games, but nearly ended that streak midway through the first period of the Penguins' 3-1 victory at Florida Tuesday.
Orpik deflected a Sidney Crosby pass from the front lip of the crease, but couldn't get the puck past Panthers goalie Tomas Vokoun.
Orpik scored his most recent goal -- his third in 257 NHL games -- Oct. 22, 2005 at Boston.
Jordan Staal has nearly everything anyone could want in a good faceoff man. He's big and strong, with good reflexes and instincts. The only thing missing is experience in handling draws at this level, and that really shows in his faceoff statistics.
Staal enters tonight's game with a 214-275 mark on draws, a success rate of 43.8 percent. Happily for the Penguins, there's an almost surefire cure for his major shortcoming, which is being barely half the age of some of the guys he goes against on draws.
"Jordan still has to work on it a little bit," coach Michel Therrien said. "That's normal. He's only 19 years old. Remember two years ago how [Crosby] was getting criticized because he wasn't good on faceoffs? People didn't realize he was 18 years old and was taking faceoffs against guys with a lot of experience. I know Jordan will get better. It's a matter of time. He's got to go through that process."
Penguins forwards Erik Christensen and Tyler Kennedy were held out of practice because of illness and described as questionable for tonight's game, although Christensen said he expects to be able to play.
First Published January 10, 2008 12:00 am