Penguins flunk another big test losing to Flyers, 5-2

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PHILADELPHIA -- Now that the Penguins are 17 games into their season, including a 5-2 loss to Philadelphia at the Wachovia Center last night, it might be a good time for a quiz.

Not a particularly difficult one -- like naming the last three guys to score a goal who didn't do it as a member of the No. 1 line or the top power-play unit -- but a bit challenging, nonetheless.

OK, here we go: Which of the following is the lowest:

1. Goalie Marc-Andre Fleury's save percentage.

2. Fleury's confidence level.

3. The number of pucks Fleury stops, then controls, in an average game.

Right. It's a trick question, because several of those numbers are nearly too small to calculate.

That gives them something in common with the amount of discipline the Penguins (7-9-1) have been playing with lately. The offensive output of their second, third and fourth lines for most of 2007-08, too.

Sure, the Penguins have not done a lot of things well for the past five weeks or so, but they do seem to be mastering the art of self-destruction.

Last night, that translated to seven Flyers power plays, four of which resulted in goals.

"We didn't do a job on the [penalty-kill]," right winger Colby Armstrong said. "And, obviously, it killed us."

It certainly didn't help Fleury's psyche, especially when two of those man-advantage goals came in the first eight minutes. He finished with 25 saves, few of which he made look easy.

"The kid is pretty fragile right now," coach Michel Therrien said.

Just 31 seconds after the opening faceoff, the Penguins were caught with too many men on the ice -- their fifth bench minor of the season, tying Los Angeles for the most in the league -- and they paid for it exactly a minute later. Kimmo Timonen was credited with the goal after a Penguin apparently nudged it over the goal line during a scramble in the crease.

Therrien said "bad communication" was responsible for the Penguins ending up with three defensemen on the ice.

"In bantam, they know that they allow two defensemen," he said.

Another ill-conceived penalty followed at 6:47, when Gary Roberts picked up a roughing minor for a hit in the Flyers' end, and it led to a power-play goal by Mike Knuble at 7:51.

"[Those goals] definitely put us on our heels," Therrien said.

The Penguins got their first chance with the extra man when Daniel Briere of the Flyers received a double-minor for high-sticking at 8:50, but failed to convert -- even after a subsequent high-sticking penalty to Randy Jones gave them a two-man advantage for 27 seconds.

No surprise there, since they generated one -- count it, one -- shot on goal while Philadelphia was short-handed.

Philadelphia picked up its third power-play goal at 5:40 of the second period, six seconds after Penguins defenseman Sergei Gonchar was sent off for hooking. Joffrey Lupul, unchecked at the right side of the crease, deflected a Mike Richards shot past Fleury for that one.

The Penguins finally broke through at 8:39, when Evgeni Malkin took a cross-ice feed from Ryan Whitney, who returned after missing four games with a sore groin, and beat Philadelphia goalie Martin Biron from the bottom of the right circle for his sixth.

The second assist went to Sidney Crosby, giving him a point in 16 consecutive games, while Malkin ran his scoring streak to 10.

The game became improbably close with two-tenths of a second left in the period, as Gonchar threw a wrist shot toward the Philadelphia net from the top of the slot, and it got by Biron to make it 3-2.

But any thought the Penguins had of stealing a point or two -- and make no mistake, that would have involved larceny -- disappeared when Briere punched a Richards rebound between Fleury's legs at 7:54 for the Flyers' fourth power-play goal.

"You're climbing that mountain [to get back in the game]," forward Erik Christensen said. "And the avalanche hits, and you're going down with it."


Dave Molinari can be reached at DWMolinari@Yahoo.com .


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