OUT OF THE GATES: December to remember

When the 2009-10 schedule was released, this stretch leading up to the holiday break stuck out to me as a time where the Penguins would prove themselves.

They haven’t disappointed.

After dropping back to back home games against Chicago and Carolina, the Penguins have strung together five straight wins. Most recently they took care of Philadelphia — which is always difficult given the rivalry — in a home and home series and then traveled to Buffalo and won in a shootout, 2-1.

In one week the Penguins have proven they are every bit as good as last year, if not better. And with games against New Jersey tonight and Ottawa on Wednesday, the Penguins can enter the three-day holiday break playing their strongest hockey of the year.

What’s scary is Pittsburgh has shown they still have a lot of improving to do.

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Mr. Dependable on defense: Mark Eaton

Defensively, this season has been anything but ordinary.

A revolving door that has seen Sergei Gonchar, Kris Letang, Brooks Orpik, Jay McKee and Alex Goligoski — who is out of the lineup again with a lower body injury — miss time to injury has had one stalwart: Mark Eaton.

Eaton has played in all 28 games for the Penguins so far in 2009-10, sitting third on the team with a plus-7 rating. He doesn’t make big hits like Orpik or score goals with precision accuracy like Gonchar. He does, however, move on with a quiet and confident demeanor that has turned him in to one of the most reliable players on the squad.

“He goes out there, whether he’s the sixth defenseman or whether he’s the second defenseman, he seems to play the same way with the same demeanor,” Pittsburgh coach Dan Bylsma said.  “It’s tough to tell when his bad days are, because of matter-of-fact and how professional he is about the way he works and plays.”

That steadiness has taken him a while to develop, considering the beginning of his career in Pittsburgh was marred by injuries.

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Secondary scorers power the Pens

If any player was to take over a game, Mike Rupp wouldn’t be the first to come to mind.

Pittsburgh Penguins 5 — New York Rangers 2

Although, his recent play suggests maybe it should.

Rupp and Sidney Crosby combined to score five goals Monday night in a 5-2 win in New York — Rupp with a hat trick and Crosby adding two. The display showcased why the Pittsburgh Penguins are atop the Eastern Conference standings after 28 games: secondary scoring.

And it’s not just Rupp. He’s joined by a host of other third- and fourth-liners that have contributed consistently so far this season.

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Pens sign Martin Skoula

The Pittsburgh Penguins announced the signing of defenseman Martin Skoula to a one-year deal Tuesday.

NHL/

The addition of Skoula adds to a defensive unit that appeared to lack the same depth that the Penguins possessed at the position last season.

Skoula is a nine-year veteran who played on the 2000 Stanley Cup winning Colorado Avalanche. Most recently he played for the Minnesota Wild, where he registered 8 goals and 40 assists in four seasons — three of which he played at least 80 games in.

His career stats in the NHL are as follows …

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