PITTSBURGH - If there's anything Pittsburgh Penguins fans are learning this season, it's to not leave during the third period. Ever.
Their season isn't a quarter over yet, and already the Penguins (11-4-3) are playing overtime games at a remarkable pace. Half of their 18 games have gone to overtime, with Pittsburgh owning a 6-3 record. By contrast, Phoenix didn't play its first overtime of the season until Tuesday night - a few hours after the Penguins went in overtime, again, by losing at home to Minnesota 2-1 in a shootout.
At this pace, the Penguins' 82-game season will feel more like a 90-game season. They've already played more than half as many overtime games as they did last season, when they won eight of 16.
For these Penguins, overtime is a regular shift.
"This is the best way to learn and get better," Penguins coach Michel Therrien said. "You know every play means a lot. When you get to that neutral zone, for a young team, that is a learning process. In a tight game, you don't want to have bad habits."
The reigning Eastern Conference champions certainly aren't having many one-sided games, which might be an advantage should they return to the playoffs for a third consecutive season.
Going into Wednesday night's games, the Penguins had played three more overtime games than any other NHL team, though there seems to be an abundance of such games in their own division. Four of the five Atlantic Division teams had played at least six overtime games each, with the Islanders playing five.
With a crowded schedule coming up, the Penguins will have plenty more opportunities to play extra time. Starting with Thursday night's game in Atlanta, the Penguins play 12 games in a 24-day span through Dec. 13.
"At least we're getting a lot of points," said Jordan Staal, referring to the 15 points out of a maximum 18 the Penguins have gotten out of their overtime games.
They're also getting plenty of work during the shootout, where they are 3-2.
Already this season, the Penguins have:
-Rallied from a three-goal deficit to win (7-6 at Detroit on Nov. 11) and squandered a three-goal lead and lost (4-3 to Washington on Oct. 16).
-Scored five consecutive goals and allowed four consecutive goals in the same game (5-4 against Edmonton on Nov. 6).
-Lost a series of multiple-goal leads, losing 3-2 to the Rangers on Oct. 25 after leading 2-0 in the third, and beating the Flyers 3-2 on Oct. 14 after giving up a 2-0 lead.
-Scored four goals in a row to win after trailing in the third period (5-2 against Buffalo on Saturday).
-Twice allowed an opponent to score four goals in a row in Pittsburgh yet still won (the Nov. 6 Edmonton game and a 5-4 win over Philadelphia on Nov. 13).
"It's tough, but at least we learned from it and won the game," goalie Dany Sabourin said.