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Pens hope to buck trend of top-scoring teams falling short in playoffs

| Monday, March 11, 2013, 10:36 p.m.
REUTERS
The Penguins' Sidney Crosby (left) and Chris Kunitz (right) celebrate with Pascal Dupuis after he scored against the Toronto Maple Leafs during the second period on Saturday, March 9, 2013, at Air Canada Centre in Toronto.
Chaz Palla | Tribune-Review
Penguins center Sidney Crosby celebrates with winger Chris Kunitz after Crosby's first goal of the first period against the Lightning on Sunday, Feb. 24, 2013, at Consol Energy Center.

The 1992 Penguins not only won the Stanley Cup but also led the NHL in goals during the regular season. That should come as no surprise given that team's wealth of talent.

What could qualify as a surprise is that no Stanley Cup winner since has led the league in goals.

These Penguins will attempt to buck that trend. Going into Monday's games, the Penguins led the league with 95 goals — 10 more than Tampa Bay.

“It's been a fun time to start my career here,” rookie forward Beau Bennett said. “That's for sure.”

Fun, yes. But is the Penguins' statistical trend conducive to winning in the postseason?

History says no.

In the past two decades, 19 teams that led the league in scoring have qualilfied for the playoffs. Nine of those were eliminated in the first round. Four more exited in the second round, and three lost in the conference finals and three lost in the Stanley Cup final.

The Penguins are averaging 3.73 goals per game. Since the beginning of February, the Penguins are especially hot, averaging 4.1 goals per game. The production is stunning for a number of reasons:

• The Penguins have received just one goal from their fourth line.

• They have only five goals from the league's reigning MVP and scoring champion, Evgeni Malkin.

• They lost two strong offensive performers, Jordan Staal and Steve Sullivan, from last year's team.

• They play in a division with elite goaltenders such as Henrik Lundqvist and Martin Brodeur.

• Of their first 26 games, 15 have been played on the road — home teams are able to get the last line change, which allows them to dictate matchups after stoppages.

The Penguins' offense has reached a gear previously reserved for Mario Lemieux's teams a generation ago, when scoring around the league was far more prolific.

“They're pretty unbelievable right now,” said Rick Tocchet, who played on the '92 Penguins and later coached the Tampa Bay Lightning. “They just keep coming at you, and (center Sidney) Crosby is just at another level right now.”

Crosby's numbers are reaching historic levels.

He is averaging 1.73 points per game, a figure that hasn't been exceeded since Lemieux came out of retirement and averaged 1.76 points per game during the 2000-01 season.

“The top line is just flying right now,” right wing Craig Adams said. “Obviously, they're pretty locked in.”

Still there are dangerous signs looming for the Penguins.

Even the youngest players are aware that improving on defense is mandatory. The Penguins are 21st in the NHL in goals against, and their penalty kill ranks 22nd. Their 78.8 penalty killing percentage is identical to that of the 2009-10 Capitals, who domianted the regular season but lost in the first round of the playoffs.

“I think the six goals is OK,” Bennett said following the Penguins' 6-1 win against the Islanders on Sunday. “But we held them to one goal. That's the big thing. Since I've been here, we haven't buckled down on ‘D' like we did tonight. That's what we need going down the stretch.”

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