PITTSBURGH -- The Penguins won't play another game at Consol Energy Center until Jan. 3, and they can't be very happy about that.
After all, their 4-3 victory against Calgary there Saturday night was their 10th in a row on home ice.
They might not be unbeatable in their home rink, but they're closer than just about anyone based east of Anaheim.
That's a big part of the reason the rest of the Eastern Conference is struggling to maintain visual contact with them. And it certainly bodes well for the Penguins if they can sustain anything close to that pace over the balance of the regular season.
"We never really talk about it -- or, we haven't talked about it yet -- but as we get further along in the season, you want this place to be a real home-ice advantage for you," defenseman Matt Niskanen said. "Where teams come in here and know that it's going to be tough to win."
Of course, with the roll the Penguins have been on lately -- think huge boulder on a steep mountainside -- they probably could spend 60 minutes on an ice floe in the Arctic and come away with a couple of points to show for it.
Doesn't matter where they play.
Doesn't matter who they play.
Doesn't even matter, to some extent, how well they play.
Certainly, they did not overwhelm the Flames, who rallied from a 4-1 deficit and battled in an attempt to force overtime until the waning seconds of play. Calgary's tenacity earned it a lot of respect, though not a point.
"We didn't have our best stuff today," Niskanen said. "We had to muck-and-grind it out in the third period to hold onto the lead we'd built. Guys worked and competed really hard."
For a stretch in which the Penguins lineup has seemed to change almost every game -- usually because a prominent player has been injured -- their willingness to work, to sacrifice, has been a constant.
Some of the names are different, but the effort remains the same.
The way things have gone lately, coach Dan Bylsma eventually might be compelled to send out a line with Baling Wire between Spit and Duct Tape -- which just might be much of what's holding this group together these days -- but if so, he probably could count on getting the full measure of what those three have to offer.
Obviously, Philip Samuelsson and Brian Dumoulin aren't, say, Paul Martin and Brooks Orpik (or, if you prefer, Rob Scuderi and Kris Letang), and no one is going to mistake Zach Sill's game for that of Evgeni Malkin. Even if the Penguins had their lineup of choice intact, however, they couldn't improve on their 7-0 current run.
"I'm not surprised, but it's no joke when you have your top four (defensemen) out," right winger Craig Adams said. "I don't think many teams would be able to sustain that and still keep on going.
"That just says what good players we have coming in and filling in. You can't just put anybody in there.
"These guys are making it look easy, but it's not that easy."
To be fair, Sidney Crosby made it look that way at times while piling up a goal and two assists for his third consecutive multiple-point game.
That was particularly true of his goal, when he carried the puck through the neutral zone and deked to the outside of defenseman T.J. Brodie before hammering a shot past Calgary goalie Karri Ramo from above the left hash mark at 14:44 of the second period.
"You give him like a foot and he's going to make you pay for it," Flames coach Bob Hartley said.
Give Crosby a millimeter, and it probably will happen then, too.
What the Flames mostly gave the Penguins, though, was an impressive fight and a legitimate scare.
Even after the Penguins built a 4-1 lead on goals by Pascal Dupuis, Harry Zolnierczyk, Crosby and Niskanen with just over 21 minutes left, Calgary clawed back on goals by Mike Cammalleri and Jiri Hudler.
OK, so perhaps it was a given that Cammalleri would get a puck past Marc-Andre Fleury -- he has 12 goals in 20 career games against the Penguins -- but Calgary's relentlessness was a bit of a surprise, even though the Penguins said they expected nothing less.
"I'm kind of a more of a you-get-what-you-deserve kind of guy, but tonight, we did some good things," Cammalleri said. "Unfortunately, when you're in tight, tight games like this all the time, you end up losing some."
At least for now, however, the Penguins will just have to take his word on that.
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