Pittsburgh Penguins: 6-Game Winning Streak by the Numbers

James ConleyContributor IIIJanuary 24, 2012

Pittsburgh Penguins: 6-Game Winning Streak by the Numbers

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    It wasn't very long ago that we were writing articles about the Penguins and six-game streaks punctuated by a date with the Washington Capitals.

    This one's only a little different.

    The Penguins have won six games in a row and Evgeni Malkin is on a level of unstoppable that by all rights is comparable to what Sidney Crosby did to the NHL in the first half of last season.

    Since the streak began, Pittsburgh has jumped from ninth to sixth in the East and have managed to do so without sustaining another major injury to an impact player.

    The ebb and flow of an NHL season is truly remarkable.

    A recap of the Penguins' six-straight victories, by the numbers:

4-6-6

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    That's how the Pens' schedule for the last month reads: four wins, six losses, six more wins.

    In context, a 10-6 record over a 16-game stretch isn't all that bad, and pretty good for a team dealing with injuries to key players.

    It's how the record came about that caused so much discussion.

    The acrimony that accompanied the losing streak, followed by the unabashed optimism over the current winning streak, shows how fickle hockey fans can be during the course of a season.

    Two weeks ago, the Penguins weren't going to make the playoffs (I had a hand in that group, but in my defense Letang was still out indefinitely and Neal was thought to be out 4-6 weeks with a broken foot).

    Rhetoric nowadays has it that Evgeni Malkin is the hands-down MVP, James Neal is going to win the scoring title and the Pens are likely to catch the Flyers and Rangers by about the time Crosby and Staal return.

    Hyperbole abounds in good times and bad. Hopefully the Pens will be firmly in the playoff picture when their record finally balances itself out.

23-13

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    Pittsburgh has scored 23 times in their last six games while allowing just 13 goals against.

    Those numbers have taken them from 10th in the league in goals for and goals against to sixth overall in goals scored and ninth in goals against.

    The turnaround in offense comes from a team commitment to forechecking and physicality, but that style of play has opened up the ice for Malkin and Neal, who have carried the team from outside the playoff bubble to within a few points of the Flyers in the Atlantic.

    Defensively, the Penguins have responded nicely to the return of Kris Letang, as they've allowed only one goal in three of the six wins.

    While two straight games of three or more goals allowed is a bit concerning, the wins are still piling up.

71-18

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    There may be no hotter duo in the NHL than Evgeni Malkin and James Neal.

    Malkin has at least one goal in each of the last six games, a scoring streak to match his career best in his first six NHL games.

    During the streak, Geno has counted for nine goals and four assists (13 points), including a natural hat trick, three game-winning goals, a five-point game and a plus-11 rating.

    Most incredibly, seven of Malkin's nine goals have come in the third period or overtime, and he went 2-for-2 in shootout attempts against Carolina and Montreal.

    As Malkin goes, so goes James Neal.

    Neal came into the season as a notorious first-half performer and those fears arose when he began the season scoring at a torrid pace. Malkin's presence has helped keep Neal consistent, much as Neal has done the same for Geno.

    Over the winning streak, Neal has been good for five goals, five assists, a plus-10 rating and 33 shots on goal. Neal scored twice against Washington Sunday, including the game-tying goal in the third period.

    Chris Kunitz, too, has been an integral part of the top line. His impact doesn't show on the scoresheet, but his relentless forechecking and physical presence plays an immense role in opening up the ice for Neal and Malkin to work.

    Without this line, Pittsburgh might be looking at 12 straight losses.

227-152

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    The Penguins out-shot most of their opponents during the losing streak.

    They're out-shooting everyone now.

    In each of the six latest wins, the Penguins have registered more shots than they've allowed, averaging 37.83 shots per game (SPG) while allowing only 25.4 SPG.

    They've registered 40 or more shots on goal in three of the six games and counted 75 more shots than they surrendered over that span.

    For the season, the Penguins are second overall in both shots for and against per game, at 34.5 and 26.4 per game, respectively, trailing only the San Jose Sharks and St. Louis Blues in those categories.

    The numbers should come as no surprise, as the Penguins have the top two shooters in the game in James Neal (204) and Evgeni Malkin (196).

6-0-0

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    Marc-Andre Fleury is 6-0-0 over the streak, starting and winning each of those contests in spite of recently having a set of back-to-back starts and a stretch of three starts in four days.

    The wins have brought Fleury's record to 25-12-2 this season.

    His 25 wins are tied for third-most in the NHL and he's also in the Top 10 of the league in starts appearances (41), GAA (2.26) and shootout save percentage (.833) amongst goalies with at least 10 shootout attempts against.

    Backup Brent Johnson hasn't received a start since January 10 and is struggling terribly. Fleury has appeared in 41 of the Pens' 48 games and is on pace for 67 starts, which would be a career high.

    He appears capable of workhorse duties now, but goalie tandems (and the rest that comes with being part of one) have proven invaluable over the last two postseasons.

58-15

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    The Pens must be enjoying watching players join the lineup, for a change.

    Where "injured reserve" and "scratched tonight" were the underlying themes of the losing streak (and the season as a whole), the Penguins have actually seen the return of a few bodies to the lineup.

    Dustin Jeffrey was activated off IR during the losing streak, but has shaken off the rust lately and become a suitable second-line center. Jeffrey was largely responsible for the shootout win over Montreal Friday night, scoring two goals and an assist in the 5-4 final.

    No return has been bigger than Kris Letang, however.

    The No. 1 defenseman rejoined the lineup against the Rangers last Thursday after missing 21 games with a concussion.

    In three games back, Letang has two goals, two assists and a plus-4 rating and despite appearing in just 25 games this season was named an All-Star replacement for the injured Dustin Byfuglien.

    Letang's return leaves the Penguins with just three players on injured reserve in Sidney Crosby (concussion), Jordan Staal (knee) and Arron Asham (concussion).