Shoddy defensive play puts Fleury, Penguins in a bad spot
April 14, 2012 4:45 AM
Shaky defense has put pressure on goalie Marc-Andre Fleury through two games.
By Ray Fittipaldo Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
The Penguins haven't been a responsible defensive team for much of the season, but Marc-Andre Fleury bailed out his teammates with some spectacular goaltending. The shaky defense has continued in the first two games of the first-round playoff series against the Flyers, but Fleury hasn't been able to make those timely saves.
As a result, the Flyers are taking a 2-0 lead and a stranglehold on the series back to Philadelphia for Games 3 and 4.
The inability to protect multiple goals leads once again came back to haunt the Penguins Friday night. They held 2-0, 3-1, 4-3 and 5-4 leads before losing 8-5.
"It's execution, realizing what we're doing wrong," defenseman Brooks Orpik said. "We have to execute better. They're taking advantage of every mistake we're making. We're hanging our goalie out to dry, that's for sure."
It was a shooting gallery on Fleury, who faced 31 shots, perhaps half of them quality scoring chances. There were bad giveaways, bad puck management and bad decision-making.
Defenseman Ben Lovejoy accepted the blame for the loss. It was Lovejoy's giveaway early in the third period that allowed the Flyers to tie the score 17 seconds after Tyler Kennedy scored to give the Penguins the momentum.
Instead of passing the puck up the boards on the outside, Lovejoy tried to throw a cross-ice pass. Sean Couturier knocked it down and cruised in on a breakaway, beating Fleury to tie it up at 5-5.
"I feel horrible," Lovejoy said. "That's a game that will stick with me for a long time. That's called the flood play. I tried to make the hard play. It hit [Couturier] in the shaft. It's my fault. I need to make a smarter play."
Lovejoy was hardly alone in his shoddy defensive work. With the Penguins up 2-0, Sidney Crosby mishandled the puck at the point on a power play, leading to an odd-man opportunity for the Flyers. Claude Giroux burst in alone on Fleury, who gave up a rebound that Max Talbot banged home to cut the lead in half.
Later, with a 3-2 lead and again operating with a man advantage, Evgeni Malkin left his feet in an attempt to win a faceoff and took himself out of the play. That led to a 3-on-2 for Philadelphia, and Talbot fed a pass to Giroux to tie the score, 3-3.
After Couturier tied the score, Jaromir Jagr scored the winning goal on a rebound after two Penguins failed to clear the puck out of the zone. Jordan Staal and Deryk Engelland both had opportunities to clear the puck before Jagr scored with 10:47 remaining.
It's the second time in as many games the Penguins have surrendered multiple-goal leads to the Flyers and the fourth time in the past five games against their cross-state rivals.
"It's been frustrating," Staal said. "We're trying to get back to [a better defensive posture]. The game has been too open. They're a very fast team and they jump on opportunities when they can. We're doing our best to keep them off the scoreboard."
The Penguins have scored eight goals in two games and have nothing to show for it. If they don't figure out a way to slow down the Flyers, a season that once appeared so promising will end with bitter disappointment. Perhaps the most bitter disappointment in franchise history other than in 1993, when the Penguins won the President's Trophy and were eliminated in the second round by the Islanders.
"It's a good team over there," Staal said. "We're a good team as well. ... We have to find a way to win one of these games [in Philadelphia]. We're going to keep playing as hard as we have been and we're going to get that bounce and find a way to win."