In the down times, the Pens would sell out, but it took financial finegaling to get it done usually because they'd have the student rush program and whatnot. The SR program had any available seat, no matter where it was (except box seats) for $20 a head, so long as you flashed a valid student id. The theory being that Oakland's right up 5th Avenue, and that's where CMU, Pitt, Carlow, etc. are all at, and the Southside right across the river has lots of college kids living there too, so they'd come sell out the games. While you'd see the attendance #'s in butts in the seats on TV, the financial reality of those sell-outs was much different.
That said, the college kids were the hardest of hardcore fanbase since they'd sit out in the rain, snow, and anything else waiting for the hour before gametime to see if they could get tickets, and usually at least 50% or more needed turned away I think. It got so bad (the weather) at times that the Penguin players were actually buying pizza and taking it out to the crowd for doing that.
It's definitely its own way of fudging the books though, from a certain point of view.