ANAHEIM, Calif -- Better wasn't good enough for the Penguins at Honda Center.
Coming off of a dismal performance two nights earlier, they played a smart, physical game and created a load of scoring chances Friday against Anaheim, but they couldn't overcome a three-goal deficit and fell, 3-2, to the Ducks at Honda Center.
But better was still, well, better, a much different performance from their 5-2 loss Wednesday at Dallas, even if it left them 0-2 on their trip west.
"We gave ourselves a chance tonight. It was a better game," said Penguins center Sidney Crosby, who had both Penguins goals after the Ducks scored their three in a span of 6:51 in the second period.
Only the outcome weighed on the Penguins.
"I liked our game," coach Dan Bylsma said. "I liked the way our team battled and played. It gets away from us a little bit getting down, 3-0, but we stuck with it and we kept battling.
"I like the way our team responded in a lot of areas."
Penguins goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury missed a chance to break out of the doldrums and fell to 1-6.
The Penguins showed considerably more spark in the first period of this game than they did at Dallas.
It was physical from the start, with Penguins defenseman Deryk Engelland and Ducks winger George Parros squaring off off of a faceoff just 1:42 into regulation.
That never developed into what might have been a heavyweight fight because Engelland appeared to lose his footing and slip to the ice almost immediately, but there were several bruising hits and a few heated confrontations in the minutes after that.
That included some shoves and words between the team captains, Crosby and Ryan Getzlaf of Anaheim. It started when Getzlaf lined up Crosby in the corner to the right of Ducks goaltender Jonas Hiller, but Crosby ducked to avoid a check into the glass. The two tumbled to the ice briefly, then snapped and poked at each other as they made their way to their respective benches, with Crosby punctuating things with a cross-check that was not penalized.
There were 31 hits in the first period, 17 by the Penguins and 14 by the Ducks, and they were spread around, with no one getting more than three.
"Both teams want to play physical," Crosby said. "We wanted to bounce back, too, and that was just the nature of the game. It was probably brought on both teams."
The goals didn't start coming until the second period.
Bobby Ryan gave the Ducks a 1-0 lead at 7:35 when he caught up with the puck just atop the right circle, turned and launched a wrist shot past Fleury's glove to make it 1-0.
Corey Perry carried the puck out from behind the Penguins net to start the next scoring play. He tried to direct the puck toward the net. It ticked off of the stick of the Penguins' Tyler Kennedy and right to Getzlaf, who turned and lifted it into the net, giving the Ducks a 2-0 lead at 12:22.
Saku Koivu got a rebound that stopped dead eight feet in front of the crease and beat Fleury as the goalie rushed back to his left for a 3-0 lead at 14:26.
The Penguins then broke an 0-for-29 power-play streak after Evegni Malkin worked hard to draw a penalty.
He took the puck off of Teemu Selanne near the left point of the Penguins end. Selanne, who was tired at the end of a shift, hauled down Malkin and was called for hooking.
During the power play, Crosby scored his seventh goal of the season when he tipped in a shot by Kris Letang to pull the Penguins to within 3-1 at 17:27 of the second period.
The Penguins showed a new wrinkle on their power play, with Crosby roving the slot some rather than sticking primarily to the right half-wall, and it paid off -- as did Malkin's big effort to draw the penalty.
When the Penguins are playing up to their skill level, a turn of events like that leading to a goal could be expected more often.
"It's our system -- forecheck hard and everybody plays in the system, lots of skating, lots of hits," Malkin said.
Crosby struck again at 3:48 of the third period to close the gap to 3-2. He backhanded a rebound of a shot by Pascal Dupuis past Hiller.
The Penguins outshot Anaheim, 27-12, over the final two periods, but couldn't beat Hiller. They figure they will beat other teams with similar performances.
"Everything's about wins and losses, but at the same time if we're playing a particular style, it's a long season and we'll win a lot of hockey games," said Penguins forward Mike Rupp, who had a game-high five hits.
"We hadn't been doing that. I think tonight was a good indicator of the direction we need to be. It's a loss. It's a tough one. We battled hard. But there's a lot of positives to take from tonight."
The Penguins conclude their trip with a game at Phoenix tonight.
For much more on the Penguins, read the Pens Plus blog with Dave Molinari and Shelly Anderson at www.post-gazette.com/plus . Shelly Anderson: firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-263-1721. First Published November 6, 2010 4:30 AM