Some might suggest that there were times during the second period of their 4-3 overtime victory against Washington at Mellon Arena last night when the Penguins looked like a team trying to get its coach fired, but that just isn't so.
It was more like they were trying to get the entire franchise disbanded.
They were outworked, outshot, outplayed, outskated and out-and-out overwhelmed by a team that is anchored at the bottom of the Eastern Conference standings and has come by its 14-19-5 record honestly.
"We fell asleep in the second period," defenseman Darryl Sydor said.
Not exactly. Slipped into a deep coma would be closer to the truth.
Still, the Penguins (19-16-2) guaranteed themselves a point when Sydor forced overtime with a power-play goal at 17:44 of the third period, then snagged a second when Sergei Gonchar capped an otherwise miserable evening by scoring from the top of the right circle at 1:33 of overtime.
"Sydor couldn't have picked a better time to score his first goal of the season," coach Michel Therrien said. "And I'm sure there were not many happier guys to score than Sergei Gonchar."
For most of the game, Gonchar looked like he was two years younger than his actual age of 33; unfortunately, that would put him back in the 2005-06 season, when his game plunged to depths it had not reached before or since.
"I had a couple of bad mistakes," Gonchar said. "I feel much better now."
His play clearly suffered from the absence of Mark Eaton, his longtime partner who is out indefinitely with a knee injury. That being the case, the Penguins might want to book Eaton on the first available flight to Lourdes.
Eaton's spot was taken by Rob Scuderi, and Gonchar insisted they can be an effective pairing.
"We're going to find some chemistry," he said. "For sure, we're going to be better the next game."
Not exactly a high-risk prediction there.
The Capitals lost all-world winger Alexander Ovechkin for the third period and overtime with a gash on his leg, although coach Bruce Boudreau said the injury is not serious.
Jeff Taffe gave the Penguins a 1-0 lead at 12:01 of the opening period when he beat Capitals goalie Brent Johnson from inside the left dot, but Washington pulled even after an errant pass by Gonchar.
He banked the puck off the back boards and the left side of the net before it caromed to Capitals forward Boyd Gordon, who fed it to Donald Brashear in front of the Penguins' net. Brashear, a heavyweight who had fought Penguins right winger Georges Laraque at 3:18, flipped the puck past goalie Ty Conklin.
Johnston denied Sidney Crosby from close range twice with about 21/2 minutes left in the period, but the Penguins got a lucky bounce of their own before the shift was over.
Colby Armstrong's blind, backhand centering pass from behind the goal line glanced off the stick of Washington defenseman Milan Jurcina, then hit Johnson's left skate before skidding into the net.
Johnson sprained his left knee during that sequence and was replaced by Olaf Kolzig.
The Capitals tied the game, 2-2, at 5:23 of the second when defenseman Brian Pothier put a shot between Conklin's legs from the top of the right circle and moved in front after another Gonchar gaffe at 18:26.
Washington rookie Nicklas Backstrom knocked the puck off Gonchar's stick behind the Penguins' goal line and onto that of Ovechkin, who buried it behind Conklin for a 3-2 lead.
The standing-room crowd of 17,132 jeered the Penguins off the ice at the second intermission, and nobody suggested the fans' reaction was unduly harsh.
"We needed to wake up," Crosby said.
They did that, but still were in serious danger of losing until Sydor scored after Erik Christensen beat Capitals center Brooks Laich cleanly on a faceoff. Christensen pulled the puck back to Sydor, whose shot deflected off Jurcina and fluttered past Kolzig.
"I was struggling all night, so it was a big draw to win," Christensen said.
And Gonchar's goal was a big one to score, because it yielded a point that could make a major difference at the end of the season.
"We fought back," Crosby said. "We have to be proud of that. ... Sometimes, you have to find ways to win when you're not playing your best."
Dave Molinari can be reached at DWMolinari@Yahoo.com . First Published December 28, 2007 5:00 AM