Evgeni Malkin's words were a little mumbled, his sentences a bit fragmented.
But his sentiment in the wake of the Penguins' 4-3, come-from-ahead loss to Washington at Mellon Arena last night couldn't have been more clear.
In any language.
"In third period, it's three goals," Malkin said. "It's bad system. Everybody play, bad play."
Presumably, he was unhappy with the way the Penguins executed their system while giving up three unanswered goals during the final 20 minutes, not the technical points of it.
Certainly, coach Michel Therrien's was when asked how a 3-0 lead had mutated into a 4-3 defeat.
"Unacceptable, it's pretty simple," Therrien said. "Immature, and unacceptable."
Malkin, it should be noted, was hardly the only player to express dissatisfaction with the Penguins' late-game performance, which was accurately reflected by Washington's 21-6 edge in shots during the final 20 minutes.
"In the third period, I don't know if we stopped working or what it was, but it seemed like every loose puck, they were getting to," defenseman Brooks Orpik said. "It seemed like we were playing not to lose instead of continuing to go at them.
"We were making plays for two periods, then, after that, every time we got the puck, we gave it right back to them. ... I think it was more us than it was them. I don't know if we got outworked or if we're out of shape but for two periods, we played hard, and, in the third period, we just [threw] it away."
The Penguins, who had failed to score more than one man-advantage goal in any of their first four games, got three during the first 22 minutes against Washington.
Alex Goligoski converted a Malkin rebound at 12:58 of the opening period, Malkin scored from the slot with 42.5 seconds left before the intermission, and Miroslav Satan nudged a loose puck over the goal line during a five-on-three at 1:51 of the second.
That gave the Penguins a three-goal lead, their biggest of the season.
But they revived Washington with some sloppy work in the defensive zone, as they failed to clear the puck into the neutral zone and triggered a sequence that culminated in Capitals left winger Tomas Fleischmann backhanding a shot past goalie Marc-Andre Fleury from directly in front of the crease at 5:45 of the second.
That goal could have jump-started the Capitals, but Penguins left winger Paul Bissonnette short-circuited any momentum they might have gotten from it when he bloodied the nose of Washington winger Matt Bradley, an ex-Penguin, in a fight off the subsequent faceoff.
The Capitals, though, regrouped in a big way during the second intermission and sliced the Penguins' lead to one with a goal by Alexander Semin at 3:38 of the third.
Michael Nylander won a faceoff cleanly from Malkin, pulling the puck to Semin near the top of the right circle. Semin threw a blur of a wrist shot past Fleury -- "That's a great shot, a nice goal," Sidney Crosby said -- which meant a lost faceoff led directly to a goal-against for the Penguins for the second game in a row.
The Capitals' surge continued when Nylander converted a cross-ice feed from Fleischmann at 10:00 to complete a counter-attack that begin in the far end.
"The third one [began with] a turnover at the blue line by me," Crosby said. "Just little mistakes, and. against a team like that, you don't get away with them."
Capitals forward Boyd Gordon got the winner at 15:43 when he beat Fleury from the right side.
Gordon's shot caromed off the bar in the back of the net, and the initial on-ice ruling was that he had not scored. Play continued for several minutes before there was stoppage and a video review confirmed that the puck had entered the net.
The time that elapsed was put back on the clock, but the way the game was going at that point, the third period could have dragged on until 3 a.m., and the Penguins wouldn't have seriously threatened to get the goal they needed to force overtime.
"I think they just let down," Fleischmann said. "And we had a better third period."
And so the Penguins were left to reflect on one of their most troubling collapses in recent years -- "It's not acceptable, home or away, to give up a three-goal lead like that," Orpik said -- and to try to take something positive from an utterly negative experience.
"It's a good lesson," Crosby said. "And sometimes, you have to learn the hard way."
Dave Molinari can be reached at email@example.com First Published October 17, 2008 4:00 AM