The Penguins have lost twice in the past six weeks, and perhaps it isn't a coincidence that defenseman Mark Eaton was under the weather on both occasions.

With the leading contender for the Hart Trophy and a galaxy of other stars in their lineup, the Penguins still never looked like a Stanley Cup team until a reliable old friend stepped back into the lineup.

“We didn't anticipate him being this effective on the ice,” assistant coach Todd Reirden, who works with the Penguins' defensemen, said about Eaton. “He's been everything we hoped for and more.”

Statistics simply don't lie.

The Penguins are 15-1 with Eaton in the lineup. When they had a 15-game winning streak broken against Buffalo, Eaton played with an illness.

He was unable to play the following night at Madison Square Garden, and the Penguins were annihilated, 6-1.

With Eaton in the lineup, the Penguins permit just 1.81 goals per game. Without Eaton, the Penguins allow 2.83 goals per game.

“The state our defense was in,” Reirden said, “we were looking for a veteran guy to come in and settle things down.”

Penalty killing had been the Penguins' Achilles' heel earlier this season, but the problem largely evaporates with Eaton in the lineup. During his 16 games, the Penguins killed 86.3 percent of their penalties.

Without Eaton, the Penguins killed 76.8 percent of their penalties.

Unsigned following the conclusion of the NHL lockout, Eaton continued working out daily, hoping his phone would ring. It finally did, and Eaton credits that hard work for his current performance.

“I didn't really expect to feel awful,” Eaton said. “I put the work in. I feel like I'm where I should be over a month in. I keep getting more and more comfortable. Just getting tuned up for the playoffs.”