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Penguins Marching: What Does a 6-Game Winning Streak Really Mean?

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Pittsburgh Penguins, Evgeni Malkin celebration

It was a simple question posed to several Pittsburgh Penguins players on Wednesday before they jetted to sunny Florida to face the defending President’s Trophy-winning Florida Panthers. Besides the points, what does a six-game winning streak actually mean?

The Penguins have won games in several ways. There was containing the aggressive Buffalo Sabres, playing within the tight structure against the Dallas Stars, and the Penguins dominated the puck against the St. Louis Blues and Vegas Golden Knights.

Yet it’s been a somewhat muted winning streak.

“I don’t know. I don’t think about it a whole lot,” said captain Sidney Crosby. “I think that the season has ebbs and flows, and I think you’re just trying to maintain that momentum and keep fresh in your mind as to what goes into the different games that you find ways to win. And really, they’re all different, to be honest with you.”

You might think Crosby’s answer was unique or “typical Sid,” but it wasn’t.

Some players are just starting to realize they haven’t lost since the controversial non-call in the 3-2 OT loss to the Carolina Hurricanes in which Bryan Rust was boarded and stripped of the puck in OT, leading to the game-winner.

“I don’t think we’ve talked much about it. I think we just go game by game,” said P.O Joseph. “If you had asked me two days ago, I don’t think I would have said that we were on a six-game winning streak.”

If you need more reinforcement about how little the Penguins have thought about it, this reporter inadvertently said “seven-game” winning streak to Joseph, and he repeated our error without realizing it was incorrect.

No, they really aren’t paying attention to it.

A veteran team that has reached the pinnacle a few times probably knows one of those enduring sports psychology edicts: Never get too high, never get too low. Perhaps that’s why the intensity or emotional level has not been noticeably higher.

Last season, without Crosby or Evgeni Malkin in the lineup, the team played with emotion and urgency because they were short on talent. This team is a bit different.

Until this week, when Jeff Petry and Jason Zucker were injured, the Penguins had gone stretches this season without any player being out of the lineup. For a few weeks, only short illnesses kept a player out.

And they’ve been humming along. The Pittsburgh Penguins have won 13 of 17 and have points in 15 of those 17 (13-2-2).

“I think it obviously boosts everyone’s confidence and puts everyone in a better mood,” Teddy Blueger said. “I think we played some good hockey and even some games where we weren’t as good, we showed some good character — even in the last game, it was kind of a hard-fought game. Not a lot of chances … So I think it was a good test for us.”

Indeed, the Penguins have found different ways to win. Buffalo controlled the puck and large portions of the game in both ends of the back-to-back, but the Penguins got a pair of great goaltending performances from Tristan Jarry and Casey DeSmith, respectively, and won both.

They trailed Vegas in the third period despite dominating large portions of that game.

And their shot-attempt ratio has not been above 50% in the last four games, but their expected goals-for has not been below 50% in any of those four games. Stats are according to NaturalStatTrick.com.

“I mean, some games are special teams made a difference. And our goalies are set up. They made some big saves,” said Crosby. “Look at the last game. It’s a tight game, 1-1, with not much going on. You’ve just got to grind that one out. We got a big goal. Yeah, I think they’re all different. But as long as we remind ourselves of the constants that go into those wins, that’s something you can learn.”

And that’s probably what a six-game winning streak means. Learn the constants. And there probably isn’t a better steward of that mindset than Sidney Crosby.

The Pittsburgh Penguins face the Florida Panthers Thursday at 7 p.m. Get Dave Molinari’s Penguins pregame here.

Pittsburgh Hockey Now Editor-in-Chief, formerly 93.7 The Fan, Sportsnet Hockey Tonight, NHL Home Ice. Catch Dan tweeting @theDanKingerski and the official @pghhockeynow account.