Crosby keeps streak alive but Penguins fall to Senators


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OTTAWA -- The Penguins' charter jet touched down here a bit after 9 a.m. Sunday, setting up a long day. It took several hours for it to become apparent that their two-day Christmas break was catching up with them.

That reality set in during the first period of a 3-1 loss to Ottawa at Scotiabank Place, when the Senators scored twice and the Penguins looked as disjointed as they have during any period this season.

"It's the same for both teams," Penguins captain Sidney Crosby said of the NHL-mandated respite, "but we looked kind of abnormally sloppy. You have tough periods sometimes, but that was pretty bad in the first. Why? Who knows? I'm sure [the break] had a little bit to do with it. ... That's not really an excuse."

Crosby gave the Penguins a strand of tinsel to gaze at when he scored his 30th goal at 16:38 of the third to extend his points streak to 24 games.

"It's good, but I look back to the first and I wish we would have been better, wish I would have been better," Crosby said. "You never like finishing a game regretting how you started or how you played. That can't happen. At the same time, we stuck with it, and we've got to build off of that."

The Penguins, who had won three games in a row and 15 of their previous 17, were outshot in the first period, 12-6, with Senators defenseman Erik Karlsson getting an assist on Mike Fisher's power-play goal and scoring during a delayed-penalty call. Karlsson added a second Ottawa power-play goal 20 seconds into the second.

The Penguins made Senators goaltender Brian Elliott work, finishing with a 45-24 shot advantage, but it all came back to the poor start.

Penguins coach Dan Bylsma, who, in the past, has at times seen signs that his club might come out flat and altered routines to try to stem that, was caught off guard.

"None at all," he said of indications the first period wouldn't go well. "There's always an eye on the fact that you're coming back from two days where you don't skate, but that wasn't any different for them or us."

Crosby was in the penalty box for hooking Jesse Winchester when Fisher scored. He would have been headed to the box for slashing Karlsson before Karlsson scored his first goal.

Asked if those calls helped contribute to his obvious frustration, Crosby said dryly, "Yeah, if they were penalties."

In addition to the hooking call and what would have been the slashing call, Crosby got tagged with another hooking call midway through the second period when Ottawa defenseman Chris Phillips ended up on his wallet after being part of a short-handed two-on-one breakaway.

Crosby didn't like any of the calls.

"It was a one-handed slash," he said of the move on Karlsson along the right-wing boards. "You can call it a slash. [It's probably not] if he doesn't put his hand up in the air or whatever he did. Karlsson sold a few early on. That's what happens sometimes.

"On the Phillips one, I don't even think I touched him. It looked like he fell to me when he was turning.

"That wasn't the difference, though. At the end of the day, we didn't play well in the first, and that was the difference."

A case likely could have been made that coming out of the first period trailing by just 2-0 was reason for the Penguins to believe that if they could straighten things out they could get back in the game. After all, they are the top team in the NHL in terms of points and wins.

"I think great teams find a way to recognize what's going on and manage the game accordingly," Penguins forward Craig Adams said. "If we didn't feel great in the first 10 minutes, you keep it simple, get pucks deep and play in their end. We didn't do that.

"It would have been nice to get that kill at the start [of the second period]."

That was the Ottawa power play that carried over from the first on perhaps a questionable charging call Chris Kunitz got, drawn by -- who else -- Karlsson in the final minute of the first period.

Karlsson made it 3-0 20 seconds into the second on a shot from the left point. His shot from the right point at 9:14 of the first period deflected off the stick of Penguins defenseman Paul Martin and off Fisher's body or the upper part of his stick and past Penguins goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury -- who had been 15-1-1 in his past 17 starts.

Karlsson got what turned out to be the winner on a blast from the center point.

It's the first period that will most haunt the Penguins.

"For the most part I'd say the last six weeks, the first period's been pretty good," Adams said. "We don't want to let that happen again, for sure."


For much 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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