They Shall Be CONSOLed: Pittsburgh Penguins Look Forward to Home-Heavy November

November 8th, 2010 by Matt Gajtka Leave a reply »

After losing their first three games at the infantile CONSOL Energy Center, the Pittsburgh Penguins could be excused for wanting to get away from their new home. But now, in the wake of seven of eight games on the road and with their momentum flagging (7-7-1), there should be some relief in the dressing room with the schedule tilting back to home ice.

Mark Letestu’s shootout winner Saturday night in Phoenix locked up a 4-3 win and gave the Penguins a 2-2-0 record on a four game road trip, and a 5-3-1 road record overall. Logic would dictate that playing seven of their next nine at CONSOL would provide a good opportunity to move back above the .500 mark for good, but much about the first 15 games has gone against conventional wisdom.

For instance, the Penguins are roughly one-fifth of the way through the regular season, yet No. 1 goaltender Marc Andre-Fleury has been in net for just one of the team’s seven victories. “The Flower” has been dramatically outplayed thus far by longtime NHL backup Brent Johnson, who relieved Fleury in Saturday’s game and added to his striking stats—6-1-1 record, 1.62 goals-against average, .943 save percentage.

As poor as Fleury’s numbers have been—1-6-0, 3.54 GAA, .853 SV%—he seemed to be getting his game back Friday night in Anaheim, a 3-2 loss for Pittsburgh. Unfortunately for the 25-year-old, he leaked in two goals in eight minutes to start the tilt in Phoenix, pushing head coach Dan Bylsma to send Johnson into the Penguins’ cage. After the 10-year NHL veteran allowed just one goal the rest of the way and shut out the Coyotes in the skills competition, the Penguins’ goaltending situation got even more interesting.

The Penguins’ rough start at CONSOL Energy Center has been just as confounding. Regulation losses to Philadelphia (twice), Montreal and Toronto have dampened fan enthusiasm for what was one of the more drastic venue upgrades in modern sports history.

However, a more detailed look at the numbers reveals that all four of the Penguins’ home defeats have come by one goal; in fact, Pittsburgh has scored the same amount of goals at CONSOL (17) as its opponents. Furthermore, the Pens have out-shot the opposition in five of their six home games, including all four of their losses. The numbers dictate that the team has not played poorly at home, despite the unsightly record.

With key cog Jordan Staal out for another few weeks with a broken hand, the Black and Vegas Gold will need to convert a healthy portion of the upcoming home-friendly schedule into points to be in position for a second-half surge. Even looking beyond Thanksgiving, the Penguins have 13 of their next 17 contests in the ‘Burgh, giving them a needed respite after a tumultuous five weeks.

Will the Penguins be CONSOLed? The answer begins to be revealed Wednesday against Boston.

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