Penguins lose shootout to the Wild as offense fizzles

Wild 2, Penguins 1

On the stat sheet, it says the Penguins lost this game when Marek Zidlicky of Minnesota scored the only shootout goal by either team.

Or, technically, when Wild goalie Niklas Backstrom denied Sidney Crosby on the last of the Penguins' three attempts.

In reality, though, the game had been lost long before Backstrom's stop on Crosby made the 2-1 final score official.

It could be argued that the game was lost when the Penguins failed to convert on any of the three power plays they were awarded in the third period and overtime. Except that the Wild is the best penalty-killing team in the league and has not allowed a man-advantage goal in the third period all season.

In reality, this game likely got away from the Penguins in the first and second periods, when they generated a surprising number of scoring chances against the NHL's most stingy defensive club, but were able to capitalize on just one of them.

"We were playing well, getting a lot of opportunities, shooting the puck, getting rebounds," center Jordan Staal said. "We had a lot of opportunities to get a good start.

"The goaltender made some good saves. Any game, you've got to bury more than one."

The Penguins had averaged five goals during their previous half-dozen games, all victories, but got just one of 25 shots behind Backstrom.

Free hockeyThe Penguins are 6-3 in overtime this season:DateOpponentResultO/SWinning goalNov. 18vs. Minnesota WildL, 2-1SOMarek ZidlickyNov. 13vs. Philadelphia FlyersW, 5-4SOAlex GoligoskiNov. 11@ Detroit Red WingsW, 7-6OTRuslan FedotenkoNov. 8@ New York IslandersW, 4-3SOPetr SykoraOct. 25@ New York RangersL, 3-2SOFredrik SjostromOct. 20@ Boston BruinsW, 2-1SOEvgeni MalkinOct. 14vs. Philadelphia FlyersW, 3-2OTPascal DupuisOct. 11vs. New Jersey DevilsL, 2-1OTZach PariseOct. 4Ottawa SenatorsW, 4-3OTTyler Kennedy

"We got our chances to put the puck in the net," coach Michel Therrien said.

Penguins center Evgeni Malkin failed to record an assist for the first time in 14 games, ending the third-longest such streak in franchise history.

The Wild, which has won its past four games at Mellon Arena, grabbed a 1-0 lead with one of the more peculiar goals of the season at 7:57 of the opening period.

Mike Zigomanis of the Penguins and Minnesota's Mikko Koivu squared off for a faceoff in the left circle in the Penguins' end. After the puck was dropped, it caromed off the leg of linesman Jonny Murray, at which point Zigomanis reached for it and backhanded it toward his net.

The puck was moving slowly, but bounced between the legs of goalie Dany Sabourin and over the goal line.

"I went down and it was going toward my blocker side," Sabourin said. "I opened [my legs] just a little bit and it bounced again. By the time I closed my legs again, the puck was on the edge and barely went through."

The Wild didn't have much time to celebrate their good fortune, however, because Matt Cooke countered for the Penguins 10 seconds later.

Staal threw a backhander toward the net from the slot. The puck never made it to Backstrom, but Cooke pounced on it and threw it in from the front lip of the crease for his second goal in the past three games.

But even though the Penguins did a good job of getting the puck behind Minnesota's defense, particularly early in the game, that was the only opportunity they were able to exploit.

"Especially at the start, we were slow and not ready to get out there and play," Wild coach Jacques Lemaire said. "They were winning all the battles at the start."

The Wild fared better in those as the game moved along, and got it to a shootout by surviving the Penguins' three late-game chances with the extra man.

"The power play could have been better," Therrien said. "Again."

After Backstrom denied Petr Sykora in the first round of the shootout, Zidlicky beat Sabourin by throwing a series of moves at him before tossing in a forehand shot. Sabourin, who has stopped 14 of 16 shots in shootouts this season, acknowledged he had little insight on what he might face from Zidlicky or Antti Miettinen, whose shot he rejected in the second round.

"We don't face those guys a lot, so I didn't know what to expect," he said.

The Penguins had a pretty good idea of what to anticipate from the Wild, however, and might even have been a bit surprised that they were able to manufacture so much against Minnesota. Not that scoring chances count for much if they're not turned into goals.

"I thought it was a solid defensive effort," Therrien said. "Offensively, we could have been better."

And if the Penguins had been, they would own a seven-game winning streak.

Dave Molinari can be reached at . First Published November 19, 2008 5:00 AM


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