Penguins' 5-1 loss to Panthers halts record winning streak



The Penguins have done some incredible things over the first 3½ months of the 2013-14 season, and they'll likely do a few more before it is over.

But it's unlikely they will manage anything more remarkable than this: They found a way to lose the season series to a team anchored near the bottom of the Eastern Conference standings.

One they practically have lapped in points.

That would be Florida, which aborted the Penguins' franchise-record 13-game winning streak on home ice with a 5-1 victory Monday night at Consol Energy Center.

The same Panthers who trail the Penguins by 25 points in the standings and would be even farther behind if they hadn't won two of the three games between the clubs this season.

In a few months, the Penguins will be girding for a run at the Stanley Cup, while the Panthers are finalizing their plans for yet another lottery pick in the NHL draft, but that won't change Florida's 2-1 edge in head-to-head competition.

While Florida certainly earned its most recent victory, the Penguins (34-13-2) came by their defeat honestly, as well. Doing things poorly was about all they did well.

"We didn't give ourselves a chance at all, the way we competed and the way we executed," center Sidney Crosby said. "It was bad."

The loss was the Penguins' first at home since a 2-1 defeat Nov. 13 to Philadelphia.

"It was a good streak," said goalie Marc-Andre Fleury, who had won his previous seven starts against Florida. "I think we knew it wasn't going to last forever. But it would have been nice to keep it going."

The loss was the Penguins' first in nine games here against the Panthers; the previous one had been at Mellon Arena Jan. 3, 2009.

The high points of the Penguins' performance could be chronicled -- in large letters and great detail -- on a three-by-five index card.

"It was a real slap in the face," left winger Chris Kunitz said. "We got out-competed everywhere on the ice. They came in here and beat us in every aspect of the game."

The Penguins' only real accomplishments were denying backup goalie Scott Clemmensen a chance to record the Panthers' first shutout this season and thwarting Florida forward Drew Shore's bid for a natural hat trick.

Of course, the latter required them to allow Dmitry Kulikov to score the third Florida goal, although that didn't happen until Shore had gotten two goals for the first time in his 55-game NHL career.

Defenseman Matt Niskanen beat Clemmensen from the top of the left circle at 5:11 of the third period, about four minutes after Kulikov put the Panthers up by three.

The Penguins never seriously threatened to overtake Florida, though, and goals by Jonathan Huberdeau and Shawn Matthias 12 seconds apart later in the period gave the Panthers their margin of victory.

The night began with considerable promise for the Penguins as defenseman Paul Martin and forwards James Neal, Chuck Kobasew and Jayson Megna rejoined their lineup after injury-related absences. It didn't take long, however, for it to become obvious that the Penguins were seriously out of synch.

"Sometime in the first [period], you just got the sense that it wasn't going to be one of those games where we're [hitting] on all cylinders," Niskanen said. "But, when you recognize that as a group, you just have to play it really simple and play it really hard.

"You have to check, you have to do those things to kind of work yourself out of it, because it's not going the right way. We didn't do that. We didn't have much of a push at all."

Although the Penguins had played just once in the previous eight days, they rejected suggestions that so much downtime was reflected in their play.

"I don't think we can say, 'Oh we had too much rest, and that's why we were awful,' " Niskanen said. "We were just poor."

But at least they were consistent, as nearly every facet of their game was subpar.

"They beat us in every area of the game," Penguins coach Dan Bylsma said. "They beat us in special teams. They beat us five-on-five."

The Penguins had been flirting with a game like this for a while -- "We know for the last couple of weeks it hasn't been our best performances," Crosby said -- and are hoping that their miserable 60 minutes against the Panthers got it out of their system.

"Tonight was a problem that can't happen," Niskanen said. "It was uncharacteristic for us to be that sloppy and not care about playing a hard game. That's not like us. That has to stop at one."


Dave Molinari: Dmolinari@Post-Gazette.com and Twitter @MolinariPG. First Published January 20, 2014 9:53 PM

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