Little time to reflect in Penguins shortened season

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ARLINGTON, Va. -- The Penguins game tonight against the Islanders in New York is no redemption game. At least, not in their eyes.

Sure, their 4-1 loss to the Islanders at home a week ago today spurred boos from their fans and left them frustrated.

"Maybe they exposed us to what the issues were, but it's not the Islanders -- or the Devils or the Capitals. It's us," winger Matt Cooke said Monday after the Penguins practiced at Kettler Capitals Iceplex before flying to New York.

The lockout-squeezed season "is too short, too quick. You don't have time for games to linger right now," Cooke said. "Quickly, you deal with it and move on. That's how we've approached it.

"We know we put up a poor game, but you can't sit there and worry about that it was the Islanders."

Since that loss, the Penguins have played three strong games in a row, all victories.

Against the Islanders, though, the Penguins have lost three games in a row dating to last season, the first time they have done that since Feb. 19-Nov. 3, 2007.

"We can talk about us not playing our best or where we needed to get better from that game [Tuesday], but the Islanders are maybe not [a team] that people focus on, but they have talented players," Penguins coach Dan Bylsma said.

"We know what happened last time they played us, and it wasn't a good game. They mopped us up."

Four goals for Kunitz

Left winger Chris Kunitz had a goal in the season-opening victory Jan. 19 at Philadelphia, then lived off of three assists over the next six games.

Now he has five goals, six points over the past two games. He got the winner in both games.

And he was named the NHL's No. 2 star of the week, when he had five goals, eight points and the team went 3-1.

"I'm just trying to put the puck on net," said Kunitz, who has six shots over the past two games.

"I was fighting it for quite a few games. I tried to change some things to get in better areas on the ice."

Kunitz, who played the past two games while fighting off a flu-like illness that caused him to skip practices, originally was credited with three goals in Sunday's 6-3 win against the Capitals, but he tipped in a shot by Paul Martin on the Penguins' first goal.

The NHL on Monday made the scoring change, giving Kunitz rather than Martin the goal. Martin and Sidney Crosby, who set the play in motion with a faceoff win, get the assists.

That gave Kunitz a four-goal game against Washington. He is the first Penguins player to score four times in a game since Jaromir Jagr did it Oct. 14, 2000, against the New York Rangers. It was the first time someone scored four goals against the Capitals since Sergei Fedorov of Detroit on Dec. 26, 1996.

Good puck management

Goaltender Tomas Vokoun has earned two of the victories in this three-game streak and watched the other from the bench. He can see clearly an improvement in something the team has talked about a lot -- puck management.

"We started playing well with the puck," Vokoun said. "We don't make turnovers. The games we lost, we were too cute. We were trying to beat teams, walk right through them. No matter how skilled you are, it's not going to happen."

From a goalie's perspective, there are certain ways to evaluate that aspect of your team's game. For example, during the three wins, the Penguins have allowed an average of 22 shots.

"We've got to play a certain way, and I think the last three games I think we did that -- keeping our shots [against] around the 20 mark, no breakaways, no two-on-ones," Vokoun said. "If you want to win, that's the way you've got to play."

Tip-ins

Kunitz did not practice again. Neither did defenseman Kris Letang, but Bylsma said it was "just a day off the ice. That's the extent of it." ... Cooke said he did touch a shot by Deryk Engelland in Sunday's win against Washington. There was a lot of speculation that Engellend should have gotten the goal.

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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 and Twitter @pgshelly.


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