Attitude change, positivity credited for Penguins’ recent turnaround

They filed out onto the ice at BankAtlantic Center on the morning of Jan. 13, each sporting a captain's "C" on their practice jerseys -- or in Evgeni Malkin's case, a "K."

They defended their captain after the morning skate amid a report from a Pittsburgh Tribune-Review article that said some players were under the belief Sidney Crosby had been free of concussion symptoms for some time and that a group of players held an informal meeting to talk about a temporary change in the team's captaincy.

Since that morning in South Florida, on the heels of a six-game losing streak, the Pittsburgh Penguins have won seven straight and climbed back into the Eastern Conference race, just six points behind the New York Rangers for tops in the conference and Atlantic Division.

The show of unity might be looked upon down the line as a turning point in the Penguins' season. A move that salvaged a train quickly coming off the rails, on and off the ice.

For the players, it was just a matter of keeping a positive mindset.

"I don't think really anything's changed, it's just we're still doing the right things," said James Neal during NHL All-Star Media Day on Friday. "We keep going back to it, but how we stayed positive going through that losing streak we knew it would turn around, we just had to keep going. Any good team is going to go through something like that. We just battled through it and the way we've come out of it is very impressive."

Neal, who's scored six goals and 11 points during the seven-game win streak, has seen his production of late overshadowed by the unconscious play of Evgeni Malkin's nine goals and 13 points over the same stretch. As the team's stars have stepped up their production, it's fed the Penguins' success of late.

The losing streak saw the Penguins score six times in those six losses. The tide-changing win over the Florida Panthers started the seven-game streak in which they've scored 25 times in seven victories.

After Tuesday's morning skate, Penguins head coach Dan Bylsma backed up Neal's comments about the team's mindset.

"The one clear difference in our team has been the attitude of which we've played. How we've come out in games, statements we've made," said Bylsma. "Then our attitude and response throughout the whole game has been something that has been different from this seven games than the previous six."

Bylsma also said he believed it wasn't a coincidence that the winning streak started the day that Crosby joined the team in Florida, again crediting a change in attitude and focus within the team.

The Penguins have a home-and-home with the Toronto Maple Leafs on Tuesday and Wednesday, with a Saturday matinee looming large against the defending Stanley Cup champion Boston Bruins. With a week off since they last played, the Penguins aren't afraid that rust will be a factor in thwarting their current momentum.

"We're not that far removed that you're going to lose too much [momentum]," said Matt Cooke after Monday's practice. "We're not that far removed from a six-game losing streak. We know how we have to play."

All of this while injuries have watched the likes of Arron Asham, Simon Despres, Kris Letang, Jordan Staal, and, of course, Crosby miss time.

Crosby's return to action is still anyone's guess, but it's clear the team has remained contenders in the East despite injuries again ravaging the lineup. With 33 games left in the season and the lineup slowly beginning to heal, the true mettle of this team is yet to be shown.

"Everybody knows it's a push to the end. It's tough to make up points," said Chris Kunitz. "We had a little bit of a falling out before that seven games. We kind of got back to where we were. We still have to get better and be able to play the best teams in the league and still prove that we can win against those teams.

"We've got a lot of games to prove ourselves coming forward."

Follow Sean Leahy on Twitter at @Sean_Leahy