You can come up with whatever descriptive word you want – snowball, compile, amass, or the one that is often associated with sports, streak. It certainly applies to a bunch of NHL teams through around the first quarter of the season, and the Pittsburgh Penguins are no exception.
Teams are stacking together wins or stacking together losses, sometimes one string after another, at a noticeable rate.
What does that mean?
“It just shows how even everyone is,” Penguins defenseman Marcus Pettersson offered Thursday after the team practiced at the UPMC Lemieux Sports Complex.
The Penguins started 4-0-1, with visions of a Stanley Cup dancing in some people’s heads. Then came a seven-game skid (0-6-1) and some of those same people morphed into Scrooge. (That’s right, Christmas metaphors on Thanksgiving.)
For those trying to keep up, they have followed that with their current four-game winning streak, including all the feel-good moments with Evgeni Malkin.
Consider the Penguins’ opponent Wednesday. Calgary started 5-1-0, then went on an 0-5-2 slide, and now is 4-1-1 after the Penguins beat the Flames 2-1 in a shootout.
Then there’s the Penguins’ opponent Friday in a national TNT game. The Philadelphia Flyers, racked by injuries, have lost eight straight (0-5-3), most recently a 3-2 overtime loss at Washington with Alex Ovechkin scoring the dagger.
The Flyers are without Scott Laughton, Wade Allison, James van Riemsdyk and Sean Couturier, who are on IR, Cam Atkinson, who has not played this season, and Travis Konecny, who is expected to be out for more than a week.
Even on a day like Thanksgiving, it seems likely that a plurality of Penguins fans would not feel sorry for the skidding Flyers for whatever reason – even if the Flyers might be feeling a little sorry for themselves.
“At this point, we’re finding ways to lose,” Philadelphia defenseman Ivan Provorov said after the loss to the Capitals. “We’ve got to stop that.”
That’s the thing with streaks, both winning and losing. They can be hard to explain, hard to either stop or keep going, depending on the flavor of the streak.
“I think confidence goes into it,” Penguins winger Danton Heinen said. “When things are going well, you have that feeling in the (locker) room that you’re going to pull games out and that confidence that you’re going to play the right way and win games.
“There’s no easy games, so it’s not easy to snap out of it. It is interesting to see that this year.”
Pettersson also pointed out a couple other notable streaks so far this year that have stood out. New Jersey had its franchise-record 13-game winning streak snapped Wednesday by Toronto, and Vancouver endured a seven-game losing streak (0-5-2) to open the season.
Hockey players – athletes in general – like to talk about not getting too high or too low emotionally during the season, but streaks can test that.
“For sure, but it’s harder with the losses than the wins,” Pettersson said. “It’s such a long season, you’re going to try to stay on an even keel.”
Or, as Penguins winger Brock McGinn succinctly put it, “Obviously, when you’re winning, things are a lot better, and when you’re losing it’s not.”
Streaks also can induce that intangible feeling of a team being due.
As in, a team on a skid is due to get a win, or a team reeling off wins is due to stumble.
“Yeah,” Heinen said. “A lot times teams go on (losing) streaks and you’re not getting bounces. You might be playing well and it’s not going your way, and then there’s one game where everything will go in.”
The Penguins, of course, are hoping that isn’t where the Flyers are at this point, and at the same time hoping they aren’t due for a letdown.
“It can work both ways,” Heinen said. “Teams are hot, you’re expecting their best. Teams are struggling, you’re expecting their best, too, because they want to break out of it.”
The Penguins are in the mode of not changing much because the hockey streak gods, if there are such things, have them on the more enjoyable side of the equation.
“Just right now we’re trying to go out and play the same game every night, whoever we’re playing against, and I think we’re getting better as we go along here, growing as a team and starting to dial in things that maybe we weren’t as dialed in on during the losing streak,” McGinn said.