The Miami Heat may have had their hopes of surpassing the 1971-72 Lakers’ 33-game win streak dashed, but the Pittsburgh Penguins are on a 15-game streak and only two games away from breaking the NHL’s record for the longest win streak held by the 1992-93 Penguins.
This “March of the Penguins” gets a lot less publicity than the Heat got during their streak, which is sad considering both teams were (and are) chasing history. This is the part where a hockey fan says, “stupid NBA, taking all the attention away from hockey."
To be fair, the Heat’s streak captivated the nation in a way the Penguins do not even have the potential to do because of the sport they play. When you look closely, though, you will realize just how awesome Pittsburgh’s streak really is.
First and foremost, the Penguins just completed the first perfect month in NHL history. Their 15-0 record in March is the only time an NHL team has ever played 10 games or more in a month without losing.
The Heat may have won 27 games, but they lost a game in both February and March. You can point to the lockout-shortened season that made the Penguins’ schedule a bit more palatable, but that does not change the fact the Heat could not pull off a perfect month.
The sports’ best players lead both teams: LeBron James for Miami and Sidney Crosby for Pittsburgh. Crosby has 25 points during this streak with nine goals and 16 assists.
If Crosby played in a bigger city or did not get hurt every five seconds, he would have the same level of buzz that accompanies James wherever he goes. The man is leading the NHL with 56 points and has his team poised for a Stanley Cup run.
Crosby found himself the unfortunate victim of the injury bug once again this weekend. He left the game against the New York Islanders on Saturday 50 seconds into it after taking a puck to the face. He suffered a broken jaw and is out indefinitely. The Penguins still won 2-0 without him.
That is another thing the two streaks have in common: Both teams have had to deal with injuries to major players.
Dwyane Wade was out with knee soreness for two games during the Heat's streak. They still managed to win both games, beating Charlotte 109-77 and Orlando 108-94.
Penguins keep dropping like flies. Kris Letang broke a toe Tuesday in Montreal and Paul Martin will miss six weeks after surgery on his wrist. Chris Kunitz may be suspended for a game misconduct penalty during the Islanders game.
Losing Kunitz would be particularly problematic for the Penguins. He was third in the league in scoring entering Saturday and has scored 11 goals during the streak so far, the most of any Penguin.
The Penguins are also playing with a backup goalie, after Marc-Andre Fleury was injured and had to be replaced by Tomas Vokoun. Fleury won the first eight games of the streak, while Vokoun has held the fort on the last seven.
The one thing the Heat did not do during their streak was bolster their roster. Sure, they added Chris “Birdman” Andersen to their roster in January, but otherwise their team has looked the same since the beginning of the season.
The Penguins, on the other hand, made a bold move in acquiring Jarome Iginla from the Calgary Flames. For Pittsburgh’s sake, hopefully he can pick up the slack for the injured Penguins—especially if Crosby has to miss any more ice time.
Health aside, both teams owe their streaks to a combination of efficient offense and stifling defense.
Miami averaged 105.1 points per game on its streak with James and Wade combining for 48.2 points per game. Defensively, the Heat held their opponents to 94.2 points per game during their streak and only allowed two teams (Boston and Chicago) to score over 100 points against them in March.
Pittsburgh fluctuates between being an offensive powerhouse and a defensive force. During the first five games of their streak, the Penguins scored 27 goals. They have only put in 26 goals in the last 10 games.
When the offense falters, the defense steps up to keep the Penguins in the game. There have been nine games so far where the Penguins limited their opponent to 30 or fewer shots, including a game against the Boston Bruins where they only allowed 16 shots.
Both situations have contained multiple streaks-within-the-streaks. There was a six-game stretch during Miami’s run when James scored at least 30 points and shot 60 percent or better from the field.
The Penguins have not allowed a goal in three straight games, beating the Montreal Canadiens, Winnipeg Jets and Islanders 1-0, 4-0 and 2-0, respectively.
From top to bottom, what the Penguins are accomplishing is just as impressive as anything the Heat have done. Of course, the Penguins are also much closer to achieving their ultimate goal than the Heat were when their streak ended.
If the 2012-13 Penguins do set the record, than maybe the world will pay attention to what will be a piece of sports history.