WASHINGTON -- There are no points awarded for moral victories in this league.
If there were, the Penguins would not be tied with Washington for eighth place in the NHL's Eastern Conference today.
The harsh reality is that their 1-0 loss to the Capitals Wednesday night at the Verizon Center was the Penguins' sixth in a row, their longest skid since they dropped a half-dozen consecutive games Jan. 26-Feb. 8, 2006.
But peel back the bottom-line truths, and the Penguins believe that much of what they did against the Capitals -- even though they got nothing more than a defeat to show for it -- gives them something on which they can try to rebuild their season in coming days.
They outshot the Capitals, 30-21, and outhit them, 40-39.
Did just about everything they hoped to, in fact, except to slip a puck or two past Washington goalie Tomas Vokoun, who did some of his best work when the Penguins subjected him to ferocious pressure during the waning minutes.
"We kept peppering him at the end," winger Pascal Dupuis said.
But while the Penguins put several pucks off of Vokoun and at least one off a goalpost, they could not find a way to finesse -- or overpower -- one into the net.
That is a recurring issue lately. They have scored precisely six goals during this six-game losing streak. That makes for some pretty simple math. And some pretty frustrated players.
"You definitely need more than that to win games around here," said winger James Neal, who leads the Penguins with 21 goals but does not have any in the past six games.
The Penguins' best offensive player, center Sidney Crosby, is traveling with the team and plans to resume skating while the team is in Florida, but he has not played since Dec. 5 because of concussion-line symptoms and does not figure to rejoin the lineup anytime soon.
"I don't think he's anywhere close to coming back," defenseman Brooks Orpik said. "We can't really wait for him.
"The guys who are going to pull us out of this aren't Sid or [injured defenseman Kris] Letang. It's the guys who are in this room.
"Obviously, we'd love to have those guys in the lineup, but that can't be our attitude right now. We can't wait for those guys."
In addition to Crosby, Letang and Jordan Staal (knee), the Penguins played without rookie defenseman Simon Despres, who has been diagnosed with a sprained knee that is expected to prevent him from playing for two to four weeks.
They did, however, get back forward Dustin Jeffrey, who had missed the previous 24 games because of the lingering effects of knee surgery last winter and defenseman Paul Martin, who had missed their 5-1 loss to Ottawa 24 hours earlier because of illness.
Of course, a case could be made that Martin was not the only Penguin who did not participate in the Senators game. More than a few of them were virtual no-shows Tuesday night.
"We were more willing to do what it takes [against Washington]," left winger Matt Cooke said. "[Tuesday] night wasn't up to our standards and expectations."
That was not the case at the Verizon Center,
Washington got the only goal it needed at 15:25 of the opening period, after Capitals forward Joel Ward knocked the puck away from Penguins center Evgeni Malkin in the Washington zone.
The puck went to Jeff Halpern, who carried it up the right side and into the Penguins' end. Penguins defenseman Zbynek Michalek moved toward Halpern, prompting him to slide a pass to teammate Jason Chimera as he broke down the slot alone.
"I don't think their defenseman saw me coming off the bench," Chimera said. "I kind of came from behind them."
By the time the Penguins noticed Chimera, he was tossing a shot that beat goalie Marc-Andre Fleury on the stick side for the only goal of the night. That provided the Capitals' margin of victory, and the Penguins' margin of misery. But it was one of the few major flaws in an otherwise encouraging performance.
"We did the right things tonight," Neal said. "It's tough to keep going in and out and trying to talk about what we need to do better.
"We just need to get a win. That's the bottom line."
First Published January 12, 2012 5:00 AM