Penguins turn sloppy after Rangers score two goals late in first period

NEW YORK -- The Penguins are 0-3 this season when Sidney Crosby fails to record a point.

That says a lot about Crosby's value.

What it doesn't say is that when his teammates are as sloppy with the puck as they were in much of a 5-1 loss to the New York Rangers Wednesday night at Madison Square Garden, Crosby could put up a fistful of goals and assists and it might not be enough to get them a victory.

"We weren't good," coach Dan Bylsma said. "We gave them opportunities. We didn't play, at all, our game, and then we got disjointed in our effort.

"That wasn't anything close to where we need to play or want to play."

The loss snapped the Penguins' four-game winning streak, which matched their longest this season, and dropped their record to 11-5.

And it's possible the Penguins lost more than just two points: One of Crosby's linemates, right winger Pascal Dupuis, did not play in the third period. Bylsma said after the game that he had no information "at this point."

In failing to record a point for just the third time in 16 games this season, Crosby was kept off the score sheet for the first time in nine games at Madison Square Garden, where the Penguins had won four of their previous five games.

Precedent suggests that Crosby going pointless is nothing more than a hiccup, but there is a streak with which the Penguins probably are concerned. And should be.

Center Evgeni Malkin picked up an assist on the Penguins' only goal, by Kris Letang on a power play at 14:34 of the second period, but failed to score a goal for the ninth consecutive game. Malkin has had a lackluster start to the season, and it's not a stretch to suggest that his inability to score is reflected in other facets of his play.

"It's a factor right now, in how we approach the game," Bylsma said. "I think he's looking for an opportunity and a goal, and you can see it weigh on him."

The way the Penguins played, especially after spotting New York a 2-0 lead late in the opening period, seemed to weigh on Malkin's teammates, as well.

Of course, had Rangers goalie Henrik Lundqvist not come up with a series of quality stops while the game was scoreless in the first, the rest of the evening might have followed a different course.

"He made some really big saves there in the first period," Rangers captain Ryan Callahan said.

The Penguins had a clear edge for most of the first 18 minutes, but they had a widespread breakdown after Ryan McDonagh and Derek Stepan of the Rangers scored goals 65 seconds apart in the final two minutes before the intermission.

The poise and focus the Penguins had been playing with to that point disappeared, and their game dissolved into a run of unforced errors, with neutral-zone giveaways as the house specialty.

"We generated some good chances, especially early," Crosby said. "There are no guarantees, though, when you do that.

"Sometimes you carry the play and end up without the lead. You still have to find ways to get back into it and, unfortunately, we didn't. We made a number of mistakes that hurt us."

A Dustin Jeffrey turnover led to Brian Boyle's goal at 13:10 and, after Letang briefly revived the Penguins by scoring with a man-advantage at 14:34, New York effectively ended the game with a Callahan deflection that eluded goalie Marc-Andre Fleury at 15:38.

"They get that fourth one," Crosby said. "And it's an uphill climb from there."

Yeah, uphill. And, when a team is managing the puck the way the Penguins did for most of the final two periods, it's more like, uphill while pushing an ocean liner.

"I don't think we gave ourselves a chance at all," center Brandon Sutter said.

Whatever chance they might have had disappeared long before Derick Brassard closed out the scoring at 9:57 of the third.

Bylsma, who had praised his team's defensive mindset after the game-day skate, was not inclined to do so again after the game. And had absolutely no reason to.

"They got up two, and we got sloppy after that," he said. "They had more opportunities than they scored."

Dave Molinari: Dmolinari@Post-Gazette.com or Twitter @MolinariPG.

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