Penguins' offense absent again in 4-1 loss to Blue Jackets

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The Penguins are convinced they can survive without their injured players, that losing Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin and Mark Letestu for extended stretches should not sabotage their season.

And they are probably right.

After all, quality goaltending, a strong work ethic and a commitment to sound team defense -- all of which usually can be found in the Penguins' repertoire -- can take a team a long way.

But as demonstrated by their 4-1 loss to Columbus Tuesday night at Consol Energy Center, being able to manufacture a goal every now and then is a good thing, too.

And the Penguins haven't had much luck at that lately.

The one Tyler Kennedy scored at 7:29 of the third period against the Blue Jackets was their first in a span of 140 minutes, 25 seconds.

It was the only one they got, which coach Dan Bylsma and his players suggested is a reflection of what they have been doing in the past few games. Or, more to the point, what they have not been doing.

"[Scoring goals] is a product of a particular way we play, and we haven't played that way," left winger Mike Rupp said. "We're not playing a way to give us the number of scoring chances we want in a game.

"If that was the case and we're not scoring, there might be some concern that we're not putting the puck in the net. But I feel that we can. We have guys who can."

Maybe, but of the 12 forwards who faced the Blue Jackets, only two -- Matt Cooke and Pascal Dupuis -- had reached double-figures in goals-scored when the night began, and neither has made it past 10.

The Penguins played without Crosby (concussion) for the 14th consecutive game, while left winger Chris Kunitz was a late scratch because of an unspecified injury. This was the second game since Evgeni Malkin tore the medial collateral and anterior cruciate ligaments in his right knee, an injury that figures to end his season.

"A couple of times tonight, we missed opportunities looking for something better," Bylsma said, "when the players that are good at something better aren't in our lineup."

Cooke was the focus of a controversial incident for the second game in a row. At 14:42 of the opening period, he was assessed a major penalty for charging after knocking Blue Jackets defenseman Fedor Tyutin into the boards with a hit from behind.

Cooke, along with his coach and numerous teammates, pointed out that Tyutin saw Cooke coming and turned so that he would take the hit in the back.

"It used to be you were responsible for yourself if you turned, but that's not the way anymore," Cooke said. "That call's been called on us four or five times this year. It's the same thing.

"He turns and looks and sees me coming. The other defenseman is slowing me down, so I'm not skating full speed at him."

Predictably, the Blue Jackets disagreed -- "I thought it was blatant from behind," forward R.J. Umberger said. "He had plenty of time to slow down" -- and it remains to be seen if NHL officials will determine the incident merits additional punishment.

"The league does a great job assessing stuff," Cooke said. "If they call, then I'll listen."

Rick Nash gave Columbus a 1-0 lead at 6:07 of the opening period by beating Penguins goalie Marc-Andre Fleury from the bottom of the right circle, and Samuel Pahlsson got the winner at 8:08 of the second, when the rebound of an Umberger shot caromed in off his left skate as Pahlsson drove to the net.

Pahlsson's goal provided a template the Penguins would be well-served to follow.

"We need to have a better focus on getting pucks to the net," Bylsma said.

"Like their second goal, which is [sending] a puck to the net, and they get a guy going there."

Jakub Voracek made it 3-0 at 17:12 and, after Kennedy spoiled goalie Steve Mason's shutout bid at 7:29 of the third, Antoine Vermette closed out the scoring by punching in his own rebound at 13:28.

Kennedy's goal spared the Penguins from being shut out in consecutive games for the first time since Nov. 8-10, 2009, but couldn't stave off their second loss in the past three days. More goals would help, but a renewed commitment to the style that kept them competitive despite the absence of key players is even more important.

"We don't have to sit here and worry about goal-scoring; we've got to worry about playing the right way," Cooke said. "If we do that, then we give ourselves the best chance to be successful."

Dave Molinari: . First Published February 9, 2011 5:00 AM


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