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Strong Home Preseason Record Helps Penguins Forge An Identity

by Jason Seidling / Pittsburgh Penguins
Pittsburgh’s perfect 3-0 preseason home record will mean nothing when the puck is dropped to begin the 2010-11 regular season on Oct. 7 against the Philadelphia Flyers at CONSOL Energy Center, but that doesn’t mean its significance should be understated following a 4-1 victory over the Chicago Blackhawks on Tuesday night.

Two weeks ago, when the Penguins began training camp at their beautiful new building, one of the top goals was to make CONSOL Energy Center feel like home.

While that process is something that is undoubtedly going to have to take place over the course of the first regular season inside the new arena, picking up three wins in three chances is really going to help the Penguins expedite their efforts.

Considering the fact that the defending Eastern Conference-champion and archrival Flyers and the Montreal Canadiens, who eliminated the Penguins in a bitter seven-game series in May, are the first two opponents the Penguins will face on Oct. 7 and 9 respectively.

“I think since the first day of camp we have stressed that we have to create a new identity here,” said Maxime Talbot, who picked up an assist on Nick Johnson’s goal. “It’s not something where you get a new building and you just start winning games. If we would have started 0-3 we might have wondered about winning here. But even more importantly have been the details of the game and getting the guys to do the right thing.”

“I think ultimately we have an opportunity with this new building to make it a place where people don’t like to come in and play,” Mike Rupp added. “I don’t know if we have intentionally been going about it that way, but we have been solid and making it tough to play here. We’ll look to continue that in the regular season.”

Head coach Dan Bylsma agreed with his players that Tuesday night’s defeat of the Blackhawks was significant, but he did so for a different reason other than simply adding to the Penguins’ win total.

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Instead, what impressed Bylsma more was the fact that his team was able to take a 2-1 third-period lead in their home rink and not only add to that total with goals by Johnson and Mark Letestu, but the fact that the Penguins totally dominated the final frame and held the Blackhawks scoreless was something Bylsma believes can really pay dividends when his club finds itself in a similar situation in a couple weeks.

“I like that we went into the third period with a 2-1 lead and (the Blackhawks) finished the game with just one goal,” Bylsma said. “I like the fact that we got three and four, but I’m happy we kept their (total) at one. That’s something we are trying to talk about as a team – being able to hold a one-goal lead in the third period. To win games is something we certainly want to do, but I hope to be saying the same thing when we start adding them to the win column.”

Why should the Penguins be so excited for the regular season to roll around?

The players said that question is an easy one to answer – the home-ice advantage that the No. 1 fans in the National Hockey League have transferred from the Civic Arena to CONSOL Energy Center.

“I think it has been louder, I really do,” said Brent Johnson, who stopped 21 of 22 shots in goal to pick up the victory. “You can’t say for sure because you always have to wait for the regular season to begin. Once you get that vibe with the regular season going and then into the playoffs, I expect the crowd to really get this place going here.”

“The crowd has really been loud, especially considering it is still the preseason,” Rupp said. “I think they will bump it up a notch for the regular season – especially during the opener against Philadelphia. These fans have been great since camp opened. They packed the building for the scrimmages. You can’t ask for anything more. These fans are awesome.”

Oh yeah, and it also doesn’t hurt that the hockey gods seem to be smiling on the Penguins.

Both of the Penguins third-period goals – Johnson’s tally at 8:25 and Letestu’s marker at 11:13 – were both aided by favorable bounces off Chicago blueliner Brent Seabrook.

“Maybe this place will be a place of friendly bounces for us,” Rupp smiled. “I know that’s what we are looking for.”

That and for the wins to continue piling up at the current pace.

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