Sidney Crosby wasn't trying to be picky about it.
It wouldn't have mattered to him if he had scored on the uncontested chance from the left dot late in the first period, or the breakaway midway through the second. Or any of his other seven shots, for that matter.
Could have been on a high one. Could have been on a low one. He tried plenty of both.
One goal -- just one -- didn't seem like too much to ask on a night when Crosby matched his career-high with nine shots on goal.
Ottawa goalie Martin Gerber, however, decided it was. He rejected those nine shots -- and 17 of the other 18 the Penguins launched at him -- to carry the Senators to a 4-1 victory at Mellon Arena.
"For me, it was just a long night," Crosby said.
Likely seemed that way to Gerber, too, considering how often he had to find ways to stop Crosby.
"He's got such a high skill level," Gerber said. "You just try to cut down his options and wait it out."
The loss was the Penguins' second in a row and dropped their record to 15-14-2.
Frustrating as the evening was for Crosby, it could have been infinitely worse.
Midway through the second period, a Sergei Gonchar slap shot from the right point was deflected on the way to the net and struck him on the inside of his left big toe.
He made his way to the bench and spent the next two minutes there in obvious pain before returning.
"It's fine," Crosby said. "Just a stinger."
When he got back, Crosby was able to handle his usual workload. Able to do pretty much everything, in fact, except sneak a puck past Gerber.
"We gave him a lot of chances to score," Ottawa coach John Paddock said. "He's not going to be denied very often with that many shots on goal."
Dany Sabourin stopped 22 of 25 shots in his first start since taking temporary custody of Marc-Andre Fleury's job as the Penguins' No. 1 goalie, a performance coach Michel Therrien described as "all right."
"I felt pretty good, felt pretty sharp," Sabourin said.
The Penguins launched 13 futile shots -- five by Crosby -- at Gerber during the first period, which they dominated.
"I didn't think we had our legs in the first period," Paddock said. "And I didn't think we had our brains, either, because we kept turning the puck over at their blue line."
The quality chances Gerber denied during the first 20 minutes included a Petr Sykora deflection during a two-on-one-break with Evgeni Malkin, two uncontested shots by Crosby from inside the left circle and a Colby Armstrong shot from inside the right dot during a two-on-one break.
"He's the reason the Senators were still in the game," Therrien said.
Although Sabourin was not severely tested during the first, facing just five shots, the Senators threw seven more at him during the first five minutes of the second.
It was Gerber, though, who came up with the finest stop during the first half of that period, as he stopped Crosby on a breakaway -- and the rebound -- at 8:39.
"Breakaways, I like my chances," Crosby said. "Give him credit, he made some good saves."
Gerber could not prevent Tyler Kennedy from staking the Penguins to a short-lived lead at 14:29. Kennedy collected a Malkin rebound and backhanded it in for his fifth of the season.
The Senators countered just 48 seconds later, when Dany Heatley hammered a slap shot past Sabourin from near the top of the right circle.
The Penguins were able to survive a high-sticking minor assessed to Crosby at 18:52, but Ottawa capitalized on two chances with the extra man during the third to put the game away.
Jason Spezza chipped in a rebound at 5:43 while Gonchar was serving a hooking minor, and Heatley did likewise at 12:19, when Sykora was in the penalty box for cross-checking Andrej Mezsaros. Spezza closed out the scoring with empty-netter 48.4 seconds before time expired, but Gerber had seen to it that the game effectively was over long before that.
"You have to give credit to Gerber," Therrien said. "This is what good teams are capable of doing, even sometimes when they get outplayed. A goalie stands up for the team and gives them some life, and they capitalize on their chances. That is what happened tonight."
Dave Molinari can be reached at DWMolinari@Yahoo.com . First Published December 14, 2007 5:00 AM