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Penguins Notes: Is Recent Success Legit?; Making Magic



Evgeni Malkin shootout winner Calgary

The Pittsburgh Penguins have been about as predictable and consistent as March weather this season.

They’ve put together a seven-game winning streak, but also suffered through skids of 0-6-1 and 1-5-2.

They’ve pulled off some breathtaking comebacks, too, while making a habit of failing to protect third-period leads.

Fact is, the Penguins have done both during the 7-1-1 surge they’ll take into the finale of their five-game homestand against Montreal Tuesday at 7:08 p.m. at PPG Paints Arena.

And, oh yeah, their current hot streak came in the immediate wake of a 1-5 slump that included a humbling 7-2 defeat by Edmonton.

But they rebounded from that loss to the Oilers with a 3-2 overtime victory in St. Louis two days later, triggering the run they’re on.

And Tristan Jarry believes the positive results since are an accurate reflection of how they have been playing.

Most of the time, anyway.

“We’re just playing more of a complete game,” he said. “Playing harder in the (defensive) zone, putting pucks on net. And I think we’re just playing more of a team game.”

And while acquiring the likes of Mikael Granlund, Nick Bonino and Dmitry Kulikov did not generate the headlines that some other deals did as the NHL trade deadline approached, Jarry suggested those moves have contributed to the Penguins’ success of late.

“Getting those couple of guys really sparked our team,” he said. “It showed us, in the organization, that we want to win.”

Just how prepared the Penguins are to continue doing that should be tested over the next week or so.

After facing the Canadiens, the Penguins will go to New York for two games against the Rangers and, following a home game versus Ottawa, will travel to Colorado and Dallas.

Something Special Happening?

The sample size is much too small to take all that seriously just yet, but the Pittsburgh Penguins’ power play and penalty-kill finally might be rounding into the form expected of them,

The Penguins scored on three of eight chances with the man-advantage during their weekend victories over Philadelphia and the Rangers — including Kris Letang’s overtime game-winner Sunday — while not allowing a goal in five shorthanded situations.

(It merits mention that high-scoring Rangers winger Chris Kreider could have put a dent in the latter stat had he not missed an empty net from close range as New York’s first try with the extra man was expiring.)

Probably not coincidentally to its success, the Penguins’ power play seemed more inclined than usual to put pucks on the net over the weekend. It was credited with seven shots on goal during five minutes of actual man-advantage time in the New York game, 10 in 6:38 against the Flyers.

Both of the Penguins’ special teams sit in the middle of the NHL rankings, but if the recent bump in their efficiency continues, it could make the stretch drive a lot less stressful for Mike Sullivan and his staff.

It’s Magic

Despite their recent surge, the Pittsburgh Penguins are far from guaranteed to be in the Stanley Cup playoffs for the 17th consecutive year.

There are too many teams chasing them — and still within striking distance heading into the final month of the regular season — for the Penguins to begin printing (OK, digitally producing) playoff tickets just yet.

Although they hold the first wild-card spot, the New York Islanders are only two points behind them, while Florida is five back and Washington is seven.

The Penguins are, however, close enough to the end of the season that their magic numbers for assuring they will finish ahead of the Panthers and Capitals are down to a reasonable level.

Without factoring tiebreakers into the equation, they will end up in front of Florida if/when the combination of points earned by the Penguins or lost by the Panthers the rest of the way hits 26. For Washington, that figure is 24.