NEWARK, N.J. -- This time, it was not about physical letdowns or mental lapses.
There were no complaints about a lack of effort or focus or desire.
No, the Penguins' 4-1 loss to New Jersey at the Prudential Center last night was a direct reflection of their inability to capitalize on the scoring chances they created.
And, even more, about them having the kind of luck usually associated with people who have winning lottery tickets. Until the wind blows them into a storm sewer.
"The effort was there," coach Michel Therrien said. "It was one of those nights where everything goes against you."
It's not just that the Penguins, by Therrien's count, put four shots off of goalposts, or that Devils goalie Scott Clemmensen did a passable impersonation of Martin Brodeur when the circumstances demanded it.
No, the essence of this game probably could be distilled to one sequence late in the second period, when the Devils parlayed a shot that didn't come close to being on the net into the goal that put them in front to stay.
Travis Zajac of New Jersey was responsible for the errant shot -- and the goal that followed -- when he carried the puck through the Penguins' zone, then launched a shot that sailed wide of the left post.
Goalie Dany Sabourin turned to play the carom, only to have the puck bounce past him and into the slot, where Zajac promptly swatted it into the net to break a scoreless tie.
"It came back quick and surprised me," Sabourin said. "I tried to stop it, and he put it in the net."
Things didn't get much better for Sabourin the rest of the way.
At 2:18 of the third, Zach Parise deflected a shot that sailed past Sabourin high on the stick side before dropping into the net, and, at 10:12, Dainius Zubrus put the game out of reach when his shot from the right circle glanced off the skate of defenseman Alex Goligoski before getting by Sabourin.
"Sometimes, you have to make your own luck," Sabourin said.
While Therrien didn't have any harsh words for his team, he did offer a few about the officiating. New Jersey's first goal, he said, came on a play that was "a clear offside," while the Devils' second should have been negated by a tripping minor that wasn't called.
Of course, those calls and non-calls might not have seemed so significant if the Penguins had been able to exploit their scoring opportunities. Like when Jordan Staal and Sidney Crosby put shots off the left goal post during the first six minutes or when Staal took a feed from Crosby between the left circle and crease at 10:45 of the second and thought he had scored, only to discover that the puck had struck the goal frame and that Clemmensen managed to keep the rebound from crossing the goal line.
"That's just the way it goes sometimes," Staal said. "We're in a kind of tough slump right now, and those are the kind of bounces we get."
The Penguins (15-9-4) have lost three consecutive games in regulation for the first time this season and are tied with Philadelphia for second place in the Atlantic Division, six points behind the New York Rangers and just two ahead of the Devils.
They will have a chance to pull out of their slump when the New York Islanders visit Mellon Arena tonight.
"We're going to have to be desperate to win the next one and go on a roll," Sabourin said.
Frustrating as this defeat was, the Penguins found some cause for encouragement. Like how they made a consistent commitment to solid defense, something they weren't accused of after a 4-3 loss to Buffalo two nights earlier.
"The only way to work your way out of it is to work hard and do the right things," said Crosby, who was held without a point for the first time in the past eight games.
"Tonight, we did that. If we'd come back here tomorrow night and do the same thing, I'm pretty confident we'd get the right bounces."
They finally got one at 16:02 of the third, when Matt Cooke used the shaft of his stick to deflect an Evgeni Malkin set-up past Clemmensen for the Penguins' only goal. Trouble is, that did nothing more than spoil Clemmensen's shutout, and what the Penguins need now is not just a good effort, but a tangible payoff for it.
"We want to get in the win column," Crosby said. "Whether you play well and lose, it doesn't matter. It's still a loss."
Matchup: New York Islanders at Penguins, 7:38 p.m. today, Mellon Arena.
TV/Radio: FSN Pittsburgh, WXDX-FM (105.9).
Probable goaltenders: John Curry for Penguins. Joey MacDonald for Islanders.
Penguins: Have gone 1-2-1 in past four home games. ... C Sidney Crosby has 11 goals, 27 assists in 22 career games against New York. ... Are 2-1 in second game when playing on consecutive nights.
Islanders: Have lost four games in row and six of past seven. ... RW Bill Guerin has four-game points streak. ... Scored at least one power-play goal in eight of past nine games, going 11 for 41 during that span.
Hidden stat: Islanders are 3-11-1 when D Mark Streit gets a point.
Dave Molinari can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org . First Published December 11, 2008 5:00 AM