Penguins still confident despite home losses


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With much of the team intact from a past couple of seasons that included a Stanley Cup championship in 2009, the Penguins would seem to be a club that has learned how to weather rough patches such as their 1-3 start this season, including 0-3 at new Consol Energy Center.

Validation of that comes not only from some veteran voices in the organization, but also from a couple of rookies who are watching, gauging and taking mental notes.

"There's confidence in this room," first-year defenseman Ben Lovejoy said Thursday after the Penguins practiced at Southpointe. "It's everybody. There are no doubts right now."

In fact, the stumble from the starting gate has served as a lesson to the impressionable members of the team.


Today

Game: Penguins vs. New York Islanders, 7:08 p.m. today, Consol Energy Center.

TV, radio, Internet: FSN Pittsburgh, WXDX-FM (105.9), www.penguins.nhl.com.

Probable goaltenders: Brent Johnson for Penguins. Rick DiPietro for Islanders.

Penguins: Have been outscored, 10-7, at home. ... Have outscored Islanders, 138-98, since NHL lockout. ... Outshooting opponents, 39-30, in third period.

Islanders: Have lost 8 in row in Pittsburgh. ... Power play ranked fifth (31.2 percent) before Thursday night. ... John Tavares (concussion) doubtful, James Wisniewski (suspension) out.

Of note: Against the Islanders, Penguins' Sidney Crosby has 4 goals, 15 points in past 5 home games.


"Being young, I'm focusing on the little things, and I'm learning every day in a little bit of a losing streak," rookie winger Eric Tangradi said. "I think something like this has brought us closer. We realize what we need to do.

"I'm just learning from all this."

The younger players, for example, are watching as coach Dan Bylsma adjusts his lines and his lineup. That's particularly evident with the goaltenders going into the weekend.

Tonight against the New York Islanders, backup Brent Johnson will make his second start and first at home. That's not ordinarily noteworthy considering the Penguins are in a stretch of three games in four nights, but Bylsma was cryptic in not naming No. 1 goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury as the starter for Saturday's game at Philadelphia.

It could be that Bylsma simply wants to motivate Fleury, or perhaps the coach will stick with Johnson if he has a good outing.

Johnson has had one strong game, stopping 31 shots Monday in a 3-1 win at New Jersey, while a handful of lapses interspersed with solid play have left Fleury with a save percentage of .853, which ranked last in the NHL among goalies with more than one period of playing time going into Thursday's games.

Fleury is 0-3 with a 3.41 goals-against average.

Lovejoy doesn't need more seasoning to have an opinion about how the rest of the team is playing in front of Fleury, especially Wednesday in a 4-3 loss to Toronto. The Maple Leafs, through physical and aggressive play, had the Penguins scrambling and making mistakes.

"We got away from how we like to play," Lovejoy said. "We want to be in control.

"None of those goals against can be attributed to [Fleury]. They were all legit goals. We can't have that happen."

Bylsma pointed to a series of problems that have ransacked his team thus far.

"We could have won some of those games, for sure," the coach said. "We're trying to win hockey games, but we're [just as much] trying to put the elements of being a good team together.

"That's where we've got to get better. Some of that is attention to detail, some of that is playing your role, some of that may be special teams, some of that may be goaltending."

It is not, forward Craig Adams insisted, a problem of attitude or a lack of maturity.

"You come to the rink on a day like [Thursday] and you feel it," Adams said. "We know we need to be better because 1-3 isn't good enough. There is that pressure there, and that's a good thing.

"I'm confident in the guys in this room. A lot of these guys have been in situations like this before and have thrived. I'm not worried about that."

Under Bylsma's system, offensive production hinges largely on puck possession, and the Penguins haven't made the most of that, especially in terms of their top skill players.

Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin, past winners of NHL scoring titles, have a goal and an assist each. Washington's Alex Ovechkin, another former league points champion, has seven points, also in four games.

Crosby got his first goal Wednesday but has had numerous other scoring chances.

"I feel good," he said. "I feel like I'm creating things out there."

Crosby shares the vision of his young teammates -- he is optimistic despite the club's record.

"Nobody likes to lose, but I think the first four games we've done some really good things, created some really good chances, but haven't scored," Crosby said. "We still have things to improve on, but I think there's been a lot of good things, too. We just haven't gotten the results."


For more on the Penguins, read the Pens Plus blog with Dave Molinari and Shelly Anderson at www.post-gazette.com/plus . Shelly Anderson: shanderson@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1721.


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