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Penguins looking to keep their emotions in check this season

| Sunday, Dec. 1, 2013, 8:18 p.m.
Chaz Palla | Tribune-Review
The Penguins' Matt Niskanen poke checks the puck away from the Bruins' Reilly Smith in the second period Wednesday, Oct. 30, 2013, at Consol Energy Center.

SUNRISE, Fla. — Maybe it was a myth, maybe it was reality.

Whatever it was, the Penguins have taken strides to banish it.

There is a perception — it started during the 2012 Stanley Cup playoffs against Philadelphia — that the Penguins can be a temperamental, fragile team, everyone from their superstars to their fourth-liners easily snapping if even moderately incited.

This season's numbers indicate this is changing. The Penguins say it is, and so do their opponents.

“We beat them in the playoffs last year because we played them tough and beat them fair and square,” Boston winger Shawn Thornton said. “We're a big, tough team.

“But we didn't try to annoy them. And they didn't get annoyed. We just beat them.”

The Penguins have acknowledged that other teams, namely the Flyers, previously have agitated them so much that they became distracted. In fact, the Penguins let their emotions get the best of them in 2012 to the point they had three players suspended in Game 3 against the Flyers during the first round of the playoffs.

This season hasn't been without moments of frustration, but lately, the Penguins appear to have adopted a more poised approach. More players are turning away from post-whistle scrums.

“We haven't gotten into those wild games where we feel we've got to beat our chests and prove how tough we are,” defenseman Matt Niskanen said. “We've done a good job of staying away from that.”

The numbers prove Niskanen's claim.

Through 28 games, the Penguins have been shorthanded five or more times in a game only three times.

At the same stage in last year's regular season, the Penguins already had been shorthanded five or more times on seven occasions.

Coach Dan Bylsma is pleased with the poise his team has displayed.

His team has the NHL's seventh-ranked penalty kill after a rough start, and he credits that to his penalty killers being fresh.

“Originally, the number on the penalty kill wasn't strong,” Bylsma said. “But with the discipline that we've shown, it's allowed the PK to be stronger.”

Florida forward Jesse Winchester played for the Ottawa Senators in a hotly-contested first-round playoff series against the Penguins in 2010. He said the Senators never planned to knock the Penguins off their game with after-whistle altercations.

“I never wanted to make guys like Crosby and Malkin mad,” he said. “I mean, if you get under their skin a little bit, and if that throws them off their game, more power to you.

“But from what I've seen over the years, and especially now, they don't really care what you say to them or what's going on after the whistle.”

The Penguins believe this mindset will suit them well moving forward.

“It's good for the penalty kill, and really, it's good for everyone,” Niskanen said.

Mt. Lebanon native Matt Bartkowski, whose Bruins know about beating the Penguins, said attempting to annoy them never was part of the plan last spring.

Perhaps these Penguins have outgrown such talk.

“Of course, you need to be physical with them,” Bartkowski said. “That's a given. But if it used to be easy to get under their skin — maybe it was, maybe it wasn't — it doesn't work anymore.”

Josh Yohe is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at jyohe@tribweb.com or via Twitter @JoshYohe_Trib.

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