PITTSBURGH – The chant of “Dee-fense” has been heard on the North Side for the last 40 years.
It would fit in perfectly at the Consol Energy Center these days, too.
The Pittsburgh Penguins extended their winning streak to 10 games with a 2-1 victory over the Washington Capitals before 18,653 Tuesday night.
The Elias Sports Bureau reports the Penguins are the first team in NHL history to have a winning streak of at least 10 games in three consecutive seasons. They had an 11-game streak last season and won 12 straight in the season before that.
Defensemen Paul Martin and Matt Niskanen scored the goals, and the Penguins have allowed just six goals in their last six games.
“Everybody is committed to playing better defense,” Niskanen said. “You’re going to need that in the postseason. We’re always going to give ourselves a chance if we play good defense.”
The Penguins played without defenseman Kris Letang, who sat out with a lower body injury sustained in Sunday’s game against Boston. They were also without center Evgeni Malkin, who missed his sixth game with an upper body injury. Malkin is expected back on Friday.
“We have the confidence that if we go out and put forth a good effort, we can find a way to win,” Martin said.
Niskanen got the game-winning goal at 11:58 of the third period, just after the Penguins had killed a four-minute shorthanded situation.
The counterattack was swift as Sidney Crosby moved the puck up the ice and dished it off to Matt Cooke, who skated to the left wing after exiting the penalty box.
Niskanen trailed the play, outracing the Capitals up the ice, and Cooke quickly moved the puck to him. With Crosby driving to the net to provide a significant distraction, Niskanen fired a 30-foot shot past goalie Braden Holtby’s glove.
The goal provided the winning margin and a tremendous sense of relief to Cooke, who foolishly allowed a boarding penalty to turn into a double minor when he got an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty for arguing the initial call.
That put the pressure on the penalty killers against the NHL’s No. 3 ranked power play.
“Our penalty kill did a great job all game long,” Bylsma said. “The two penalties came at a huge point in the game. I think we had 15 guys or so step up on that penalty kill. (Fleury) was tremendous. The fans were tremendous. That was probably the loudest the building has been, and you had a feeling that was going to end in a goal.”
Fleury made 28 saves, and Bylsma called his game, “really solid, real strong.”
“He was tested,” Crosby said. “They have some good shooters and scorers, and he made some big saves.”
Washington’s Alex Ovechkin scored on a power play at 8:14 of the second period after Niskanen’s block of Troy Brouwer’s shot deflected directly to him. Ovechkin put the shot in off the left post.
Martin tied the game on a Penguins power play at 11:07 of the second. Beau Bennett fanned on a shot, but Crosby got the puck and sent a perfect pass back to Martin, who cranked up a hard shot from 40 feet that got through traffic.
The streak continues, although it’s not a big discussion topic among the players.
“I don’t think anyone is thinking too much about it,” Crosby said. “We’re just going out and playing the way we need to. We’re obviously missing big parts of our team so we’re keeping it simple and trying to find ways to have success until those guys get back.”
Seven of the 10 wins in the streak have been one-goal games. … Crosby had a chance for an empty net goal, but put his shot off the goal post. … Crosby won two defensive zone faceoffs in the last 90 seconds to help seal the win. … Defenseman Robert Bortuzzo was the only healthy scratch. … Ovechkin has scored in each of his last five games in Pittsburgh.