SUNRISE, Fla. -- It would be easy to hang the Penguins' 6-3 loss to Florida at BB&T Center Friday night on rookie goalie Jeff Zatkoff. Not entirely inappropriate, either.
By his own admission, Zatkoff, making his first NHL start, "didn't make any big saves."
But to give him all -- or even most -- of the responsibility for the Penguins' first defeat of the regular season would be neither fair nor accurate. Not when so many of the guys playing in front of him did so much to make the Panthers' victory possible.
"We probably gave them twice as many good opportunities to score as we had in any of the first three games," coach Dan Bylsma said.
Sounds about right, especially considering that the Penguins gave up twice as many goals to Florida as they had allowed in the previous three games. Combined.
After never trailing in the first three games of the season, the Penguins never led against the Panthers. The best they could do was to wipe out a couple of one-goal advantages the Panthers built in the opening period, but that simply delayed the inevitable outcome brought on by some poor decision-making and worse execution.
"I was proud of the fact that we came back, as a group, but, ultimately, we never cleaned up the root of the problem, which was sloppy play in the neutral zone," defenseman Rob Scuderi said. "That led to penalties and [defensive-] zone time and chances."
And a hefty percentage portion of the Florida goals, which help to sour an experience Zatkoff craved for years.
"Obviously, it's not the result I was looking for," he said. "I need to be better, and make sure I'm ready for the next one."
It seems clear there will be a next start -- and maybe a few of them -- for Zatkoff, who inherited the No. 2 spot when Tomas Vokoun was put out of action by blood clots.
Although Zatkoff didn't do anything against the Panthers to suggest that he deserves to be locked into that role permanently, Bylsma made it clear that Zatkoff isn't going to be put out of contention by a 60-minute snapshot.
Zatkoff's bid for his first NHL shutout didn't last long as Brad Boyes of the Panthers beat him from above the right dot at 1:55 of the opening period. The goal was set up by Panthers winger Tomas Fleischmann, who stripped the puck from Sidney Crosby just inside the Penguins' blue line for the first of his four points.
The Penguins countered with a takeaway -- and goal -- of their own a few minutes later. Beau Bennett picked off a pass in the neutral zone and carried it into the Panthers' end, then slid a pass to Evgeni Malkin, who beat Florida goalie Jacob Markstrom from above the left hash for his first of the season.
Florida reclaimed the lead at 9:10, when Kris Versteeg took a feed from Scott Gomez, who was behind the goal line, and beat Zatkoff from near the right dot to make it 2-1.
The Penguins pulled even for the final time at 16:49, as Craig Adams knocked the puck behind Markstrom on a scramble in front. That was the third this season for Adams, tying him with Jussi Jokinen for the team lead. The same Craig Adams, by the way, who had three goals in 48 games last season.
Florida had scored on just one of 21 power plays over its first four games, but got two man-advantage goals as the middle of the second period approached to go ahead to stay.
Jonathan Huberdeau knocked a Versteeg rebound past Zatkoff at 7:08 on a five-on-three situation and Aleksander Barkov's shot from along the goal line to the left of the net glanced off defenseman Paul Martin and by Zatkoff at 8:14. Pascal Dupuis restored the Penguins' equilibrium at 12:13, as he took a drop pass from Crosby and beat Markstrom to slice Florida's advantage to 4-3.
Although the Penguins pressed hard for the tying goal in the early minutes of the third, they failed to score before Fleischmann knocked his own rebound past Zatkoff at 6:27 to restore Florida's two-goal lead, and Boyes closed out the scoring at 19:26.
The Panthers started the game with a three-game losing streak and were coming off a 7-2 loss in Tampa 24 hours earlier, but Crosby insisted the Penguins hadn't taken a victory for granted.
"I don't think they surprised us," he said. "I don't think we took them lightly at all. We just didn't execute well."
Dave Molinari: Dmolinari@Post-Gazette.com or Twitter @MolinariPG. First Published October 11, 2013 6:14 PM