The Penguins have felt this kick in the rear before.
When Boston seared them with five unanswered third-period goals Nov. 10 for a 7-4 win, the Penguins were left stunned. Not to mention a game under .500.
Then, they got angry.
Then, they got busy.
For the next 15 games, no one beat them in regulation, including a 12-game winning streak that catapulted them into the race for the Eastern Conference title.
They are the first to admit that since that strong run, there has been some backsliding.
"I think since Christmas we didn't play our best," defenseman Zbynek Michalek said Tuesday of a 2-4-2 record since the holiday break, 5-6-2 record since the streak ended.
Game: Penguins at Montreal Canadiens, 7:38 p.m. today, Bell Centre, Montreal.
TV, radio, Internet: ESPN, KDKA-FM (93.7), FSN Pittsburgh, WXDX-FM (105.9), penguins.nhl.com .
Probable goaltenders: Marc-Andre Fleury for Penguins. Carey Price for Canadiens.
Penguins: Are 2-5-2 since Christmas break. ... Have scored 3 goals in 3 games without C Sidney Crosby (concussion). ... Are 18-3 when leading after two periods, 0-9-1 when trailing after two periods.
Canadiens: Beat Penguins, 2-1, in shootout Thursday. ... Were 3-0-1 in four games before playing Rangers Tuesday. ... Are 5-3 on second of back-to-back games.
Of note: The Penguins had killed 26 of 28 opponent penalties over six-plus games before giving up two power-play goals late in third period Monday against Boston.
"For whatever reason, we are not playing our game. We've got to make sure we turn this thing around, start playing our game like we did on the winning streak. We were playing confident hockey, not giving up too many chances. That's how we have to play again."
The Penguins will find out as soon as tonight when they play at Montreal, whether the latest Boston beaning will have an effect similar to the earlier one.
Monday, the Bruins scored four times in the last four minutes of regulation to obliterate the Penguins' two-goal lead for a 4-2 final.
It was the Penguins' third loss in a row and not a game the team was quick to forget. Or wanted to.
"I like to remember," coach Dan Bylsma said.
He recounted the things that stood out to him -- getting a goal from Mike Rupp on a hard-working shift by the new third line, and another from Kris Letang on the power play with Chris Kunitz providing a good screen in front of the net; being roughly even in scoring chances, by the Penguins' count, through two periods before Boston had seven and the Penguins none in the third; and taking costly penalties that led to two Bruins power-play goals.
"Certainly, some things we have to take from that game, learn from that game and apply," Bylsma said.
The effects of the loss lingered after practice Tuesday at Consol Energy Center, and it brought back memories of the earlier third-period collapse against Boston.
"We definitely had to take a look at ourselves and see that we thought we were a better team than we were actually playing and producing," Kunitz said. "That was one of the keys that helped us get on that roll, but it also showed us that we have to be better in certain areas to win games.
"Going over the film [Monday] night, even though we had that 2-0 lead, it was kind of a 50-50 game the whole time. It was a false sense of achievement, thinking we were playing better than we really were."
That seems to be an underlying problem in recent games.
It is not too late in the season to learn lessons, forward Max Talbot said.
"So many. So many," he said. "We know we're not that good right now. Yes, we had that good stretch and, yes, we were on top at one point, but it's a constant battle, a constant learning experience. We'd rather learn now than at the end of the season.
"There's a lot we can do better."
The Penguins have not fallen precipitously. They have 56 points, are 12 games over .500 and were one point behind Eastern Conference and Atlantic Division leader Philadelphia going into Tuesday.
"Everybody is still calm," Michalek said. "There is no panic. We know that we haven't played our best hockey lately, but, at the same time, we believe that this is the right mix and that everybody cares in this [locker] room."
Michalek and Kunitz agreed that the Penguins have not lost confidence in themselves.
"I don't think so," Kunitz said. "I think we do things well. I think we just get away from areas of our game. When things aren't going well, sometimes you want to do that extra, and sometimes you're doing too much."
The Penguins will get another crack at Boston on the road Saturday. What portion of history might be repeated, if any, remains to be seen.
Shelly Anderson: firstname.lastname@example.org . First Published January 12, 2011 5:00 AM