Penguins can't go 'chance-for-chance' with Lightning


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It was an important lesson.

A costly one, too.

And it shouldn't take long to figure out how well the Penguins absorbed it.

Although a lot of factors shaped their 5-2 loss to Philadelphia Tuesday night -- a defeat that all but officially ended their run at an Atlantic Division championship -- one of the most obvious was their willingness to get into a wide-open game with the Flyers.

Not necessarily a bad idea when the Penguins have guys such as Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin in uniform, but a pretty good formula for self-immolation when they don't.

Which they didn't.


Today

Game: Penguins at Tampa Bay Lightning, 7:38 p.m. today, St. Pete Times Forum.

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

Probable goaltenders: Marc-Andre Fleury for Penguins. Dwayne Roloson for Lightning.

Penguins: : Have won four consecutive away games. ... Are 26-6-1 when LW Chris Kunitz gets a point. ... Have not scored more than one power-play goal in game since getting three Feb. 11 against New York Islanders.

Lightning: Beat Penguins, 5-3, Oct. 27 at St. Pete Times Forum. ... C Steven Stamkos has tied franchise record with seven winning goals. ... Has allowed league-high 11 short-handed goals at home.

Of note: Penguins are 13-1-5 in one-goal games when C Sidney Crosby doesn't play.


"We were too willing to trade chance-for-chance with Philly," center Mark Letestu said. "That's their game, not ours. The final score showed that."

And it probably will again this evening, when the Penguins face Tampa Bay at the St. Pete Times Forum, if they don't get back to the fundamentally sound, patient, opportunistic style that has them in position to reach 100 points for the fourth time in the past five seasons.

"We can't go chance-for-chance with other teams," defenseman Ben Lovejoy said. "We're just not built that way.

"We're most successful when we're in a defensive game and playing smart, limiting the other team's transition and opportunities."

Coach Dan Bylsma and his staff tried to reinforce that idea in an off-ice session before practice Wednesday -- "We saw a lot of video, teaching clips, plays that we need to fix in order to be more successful," Lovejoy said -- and it shouldn't be hard to figure out if the points they were trying to make registered.

If they didn't, look for a lot of red lights to be flashing tonight in the Forum because Tampa Bay's collection of high-end talent up front rivals any in the league.

Start with Simon Gagne, who has six goals and six assists in his past seven games. Move on to Martin St. Louis, who has five goals and 11 assists in the past 11. And Vincent Lecavalier, who has 12 goals and 11 assists in the past 22.

And then there is Steven Stamkos, whose empty-net goal late in the Lightning's 5-2 victory Tuesday against Ottawa marked the first time he had scored in seven games.

That's why Stamkos only was tied for first in the NHL goal-scoring race before the games Wednesday night rather than comfortably ahead of the pack. (Actually, that slump and Sidney Crosby's concussion explain why Stamkos was tied for the top spot, rather than being a speck in Crosby's rear-view mirror.) The Lightning, which has won two games in a row after going 1-3-3 in its previous seven, stands fifth in the Eastern Conference, five points behind the fourth-place Penguins.

If Tampa Bay wins tonight, the fight for fourth -- and home-ice advantage in Round 1 of the playoffs -- could get interesting. If the Penguins win, they will all but officially clinch home ice for the opening round.

"There's an opportunity to send a message here," Letestu said. "We're going to be a tough team to play against and, hopefully, the Lightning won't want to play us, come the first round."

Because the teams seem destined to meet in a best-of-seven within the next two weeks, coach Dan Bylsma said he doesn't expect to approach this game quite like any of the 77 that preceded it.

"It will change some things about the way we coach, the way we play the game, the way we go into it," he said. "We understand that it's very likely a first-round matchup [preview].

"There are a few things that will change, some things that happen in the game will probably change. We may want to see how they react to some things we do in the game, just to see what some of the matchups might be in the playoffs."

One thing he doesn't want to see: How Tampa Bay would react to being invited to spend 60 minutes trading scoring chances.


NOTES -- Bylsma said center Dustin Jeffrey will have surgery on his right knee Tuesday, but that the extent of the damage done when Philadelphia forward Jeff Carter fell on him a week ago still is not known. ... Tampa Bay winger Ryan Malone will play tonight after missing the past 21 games because of an apparent groin/abdominal injury. ... Goalie John Gibson, a Whitehall native, and defenseman Barrett Kaib of Upper St. Clair will play for Team USA in the under-18 world championships next month in Germany.


Dave Molinari: dmolinari@post-gazette.com


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