Penguins lose to Rangers, 4-3 in shootout


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The Penguins are pretty confident any time they take a game to a shootout.

And they should be.

They came away with victories in each of their first four this season, stretching their winning streak in games that extend past overtime to nine.

But there are no guarantees when a game is reduced to a series of one-on-one confrontations, as the Penguins were reminded by a 4-3 loss to the New York Rangers Friday night at Consol Energy Center.

"It's always risky when you go to a shootout," goalie Marc-Andre Fleury said.

Fleury, who generally borders on unbeatable in shootouts, gave up goals to Mats Zuccarello and Brad Richards of New York, while Evgeni Malkin was the only Penguin to get a puck past Rangers goalie Henrik Lundqvist.

"It's not very common to see one goal go in, let alone two, on Marc [during a shootout]," Penguins coach Dan Bylsma said.

The loss dropped the Penguins' record at the Olympic break to 40-15-3 and sliced their lead over the second-place Rangers in the Metropolitan Division to a mere, uh, 16 points. Suffice to say, the defeat likely won't persuade management to hold off on ordering a division championship banner if that was on the to-do list before Friday night.

New York ran up a 41-29 advantage in shots, and that was a reasonable reflection of how the game played out.

The Rangers had the better of play for much of the night, and only another strong showing by the Penguins' top-rated power play, which converted the first two of its four chances, allowed them to sneak a point out of the game.

"They were the better team for probably 58 minutes of the night," Penguins defenseman Brooks Orpik said. "We were probably fortunate to get one point."

Especially when their top-rated penalty-killing unit had a rare off-night.

The Penguins had not allowed a man-advantage goal in their previous nine games at Consol Energy Center, killing 27 consecutive power plays, but New York converted two of five such opportunities.

"It was night where it was about the special teams, and we came up big," Lundqvist said.

The Penguins never had a lead and had to overcome three one-goal deficits before reaching the shootout. That's no small feat against a goaltender of Lundqvist's caliber, especially when he's playing behind a team committed to playing well defensively.

The Penguins, conversely, seemed unfocused at times, and rarely looked like the team that has built a solid lead in the Eastern Conference.

"It maybe wasn't our best game of the season," Fleury said, "but we found a way to hang on and get back into it."

One of the bright spots for the Penguins was the work of rookie defenseman Olli Maatta, who is preparing to compete for Finland at the Olympics. He is 19 and will be a veritable boy among men at the Games in Sochi, Russia. The men should consider themselves warned.

Maatta scored the Penguins' first goal against the Rangers, backhanding in a Sidney Crosby rebound on a power play at 11:43 of the opening period, then set up the James Neal goal that forced overtime at 17:04 of the third.

"He was unbelievable," Penguins forward Jussi Jokinen said.

When he wasn't directly involved in the offense, Maatta was playing the solid, poised game that has earned him a prominent spot on the Penguins' blue line.

"The biggest thing that surprises me is when he does make a mistake, most young guys try to make up for the mistake right away, and that just complicates things and they usually make another mistake," Orpik said. "He makes a mistake, and most of the time, you don't even have to tell him. He knows. It doesn't rattle him. He calms right down and gets right back to playing. It's pretty impressive at any age, let alone 19."

Maatta didn't get a chance in the shootout -- he likely wouldn't make into the mix until quite a few rounds have passed -- but Jokinen, Crosby and Malkin did, and they generally score enough to get the Penguins the extra point that's available, even though it didn't work out that way against the Rangers.

"Obviously, sometimes they're going to score, and we're not," Jokinen said. "But, at the end of the day, I like our chances when we go to a shootout."

 


Dave Molinari: Dmolinari@Post-Gazette.com and Twitter @MolinariPG. First Published February 8, 2014 3:07 AM

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