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Current Pens similar but different from '92-93 club

by Chris Adamski

PITTSBURGH -- Part of a two-time defending Stanley Cup champion roster that included five surefire future Hall of Fame members, Bob Errey this week took a moment to recall the feelings associated with playing for the 1992-93 Pittsburgh Penguins.

"It just seemed winning came too easy," said Errey, now the television color analyst for the team.

"It was just so much fun. I remember the team just felt invincible."

For 17 consecutive games in March and April of that season, it was.

Almost exactly 20 years after those dominating Penguins established the NHL record for consecutive victories, the 2012-13 Pittsburgh team is working on eclipsing it.

The Penguins carry a 15-game winning streak into a Tuesday night home game against the Buffalo Sabres (7:30 p.m., NBCSN). That has rekindled memories of their predecessors of two decades ago, especially among those who have been associated with the franchise during both runs of excellence.


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The Penguins' designated "tough guy" during their glory days of the early '90s, Jay Caufield now serves as a postgame analyst for the team's locally televised games on ROOT Sports.

"Wow, the players on that team," Caufield said, his voice trailing off. "Rick Tocchet, Mario (Lemieux), Ron Francis, Jaromir Jagr, the great names … Kevin Stevens, Joey Mullen … there's probably guys I'm leaving out, there were so many great players."

Indeed, a Hockey Hall of Fame honoree, defenseman Larry Murphy, produced more than a point per game for those Penguins. That was merely good enough to rank fifth on the team in scoring.

"I think a lot of people felt that was the best team of all the [Penguins] teams, even the ones that put up Stanley Cups," Caufield said. "But I remember the streak taking a little bit of a toll as it went on."

The '92-93 Penguins, despite entering the Stanley Cup Playoffs on an 18-game unbeaten streak (they tied their final game of the regular season) and winning their division by 26 points, were upset in the Patrick Division Finals by the New York Islanders.

This edition of the Penguins, unlike their predecessors of two decades ago, is coming off two consecutive seasons in which they lost in the first round of the playoffs.

As a result, ROOT Sports play-by-play man Paul Steigerwald said the two teams' approaches to their long winning streaks are markedly different.

"I think that '93 team really cared about the streak," said Steigerwald, who was a color analyst for Penguins broadcasts in 1993. "I think [coach] Scotty Bowman wanted them to break the record … It was another addition to their legacy as a 'dynasty,' if you will. They had just won two Cups, now they're going to break this record for a streak, they think they're going to go on and win another Cup. So it was just one more great thing you can say about that team."

These Sidney Crosby-era Penguins won the Stanley Cup in 2009 but have lost their three most recent playoff series. They've repeatedly said the postseason means more to them than any streak.

This Penguins team has proof too. This season, Pittsburgh became the first team in NHL history to have a winning streak of at least 10 games during three consecutive seasons. Obviously, the previous two ultimately resulted in only disappointment come playoff time.

"I think they realize that these streaks don't mean anything in the grand scheme of things," Steigerwald said. "So they're not as enamored with it as [the '92-93] team was … in the final analysis, because all they really want to do is win another championship. I really do believe when they say they're not all that fixated on this streak that they're being serious."

The game has evolved significantly over the past 20 years, so it's difficult to compare the teams using numbers. Both teams doubled their opponents in goals over the course of their streaks -- but the totals are strikingly different.

The Penguins have outscored opponents, 52-26, heading into Tuesday. From March 9-April 10, 1993, Pittsburgh held a 96-48 advantage in goals. Nine of these Penguins' victories have been by one goal, including two in overtime and one in a shootout.

The shootout was not used in 1992-93, meaning this streak would have been interrupted by a tie if it occurred back then. The Penguins of 20 years ago had two overtime wins. The first three of the 17 straight wins were by one goal, but the final 14 came by an average of 3.2 goals per contests.

Their lineup featured four 100-point scorers and five players who had at least 30 goals. Despite missing 24 games, Lemieux's 160 points were enough to win the scoring race by 12 over Pat LaFontaine.

"The Penguins team of '92-93 was pretty much based on offense and what they could do with the puck," said Mike Lange, who's been broadcasting Penguins games since 1974. "They literally just outscored teams. They almost just dared you to try to beat them by putting the puck in the net so much."

While the Penguins of today began their late-season streak that way -- scoring 26 goals during the first five victories -- they have evolved into one that relies on defense to win now. Pittsburgh has won by shutout in the past three games heading into the contest against Buffalo.

"The teams were a little different in terms of the firepower on that '92-93 team, and now they're so strong defensively," Lange said.

"It was just so much fun. I remember the team just felt invincible."
-- Former Penguins player and current television analyst Bob Errey

Still, there are some apt comparisons. Crosby and Lemieux are superstars taken with the No. 1 pick in an NHL Draft who lead or led the League in scoring after coming back from scary health issues: Crosby was limited to 22 games over the two calendar years heading into this season with head and neck injuries, and Lemieux missed almost two months while being treated for Hodgkin's lymphoma.

Evgeni Malkin is arguably the League's most dynamic "No. 2" player on a team since Jagr rode shotgun to Lemieux. James Neal is coming off a 40-goal season and is on a similar pace now, just like fellow wing Kevin Stevens was putting together consecutive seasons of 54 and 55 goals.

Defenseman Kris Letang is a two-way puck-moving threat like Murphy was, Brooks Orpik a bruising, hitting blue-liner in the mold of Ulf Samuelsson two decades before him, and wings Chris Kunitz, Pascal Dupuis and the newly-acquired Jarome Iginla provide equivalent production to Mullen, Tocchet and Francis -- albeit the latter was a center.

Both teams had stellar goaltending tandems -- Tom Barrasso/Ken Wregget in 1993 and Marc-Andre Fleury/Tomas Vokoun now.

"They're two comparable teams in different eras of the game," Caufield said, "but two teams that both have incredible talent. And they both had the work ethic and great goaltending -- and obviously, you had the greatest player in the game on both teams.

"Just like things happened with Mario that didn't happen with other guys, that seems to be the case with Sidney, too. In that respect, it's not surprising both these teams have had streaks like this."

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