Give the Penguins this much: For 40 or so minutes Sunday, they competed like they really cared.
Played like they had a fairly detailed grasp of the sport of ice hockey, as well as a vested interest in the outcome of what would become a 4-3 loss to Philadelphia at Consol Energy Center.
So, OK, give them a bit of credit.
Just don't give them any points.
Which, as the only tangible means of measuring a team's success, are the coin of the realm in the NHL.
"I don't think there are any moral victories here," blue-collar forward Craig Adams said. "We have to be light-years better."
Getting swept by the Flyers in a home-and-home series, as the Penguins were, might seem like a catastrophe of galactic proportions because of the ferocious rivalry between the teams, but it shouldn't have a profound effect on anything other than the Penguins' chances of finishing first in the Eastern Conference.
Which, suddenly, don't look a whole lot better than, say, Sidney Crosby's chances of winning elective office on the far side of the Commonwealth.
The Penguins (44-19-4) have slipped three points behind first-place Boston, which has run off eight consecutive victories. Both teams have 15 games remaining.
Finishing second in the conference would have a pretty limited impact on the Penguins -- it would do nothing but deny them home ice against the Bruins if they would meet in the conference final -- but the same can't be said for the kind of special-teams play they turned in against the Flyers.
Their penalty-killing, which has been the finest in the NHL for much of this season, gave up three goals in seven short-handed situations over the weekend.
And that was the special-teams bright spot.
The Penguins' power play, also consistently among the league's best in 2013-14, not only failed to score on nine tries with the extra man, but was scalded for a couple of short-handed goals.
The one Matt Read scored at 12:11 of the second period Sunday to cap a two-on-one break triggered when Penguins defenseman Deryk Engelland lost a one-on-one with gravity in the attacking zone proved to be the winner.
And the perfect exclamation point on a weekend of special-teams ineptitude for the Penguins.
"The past two days, especially today, special teams, theirs were really good," Penguins defenseman Matt Niskanen said. "And ours weren't."
Part of the Penguins' power-play troubles likely can be attributed to the absence of forwards Chris Kunitz and James Neal, who generally play on the No. 1 unit. Kunitz is day to day because of an apparent leg injury and Neal is out indefinitely with a concussion.
"Obviously, they're great players," Flyers center Sean Couturier said. "They can change a game at any time, any play.
"Obviously, they're maybe missing them, but I think all year they've been battling injuries and it was still a dangerous power play out there."
If so, it didn't look the part all that often the past two games.
The Penguins, less than 24 hours removed from a 4-0 spanking in Philadelphia, played a vigorous physical game immediately after the opening faceoff -- winger Lee Stempniak crushed Philadelphia defenseman Kimmo Timonen with a hit on the first shift of the afternoon -- but a goal by Brayden Schenn at 2:06 aborted the momentum they were generating.
Abruptly and totally.
The Flyers added power-play goals by Wayne Simmonds at 6:47 and 13:41 and, until Brooks Orpik got the Penguins' first goal of the weekend at 17:33, the Penguins were overwhelmed in almost every facet of play.
"We came out hard, came out with the right mindset," Adams said. "But we made too many mistakes early on."
So many that they weren't quite able to overcome them, even though goals by Orpik and Niskanen got them to within 3-2 before Read scored the eventual winner.
"I thought we competed a heck of a lot better in the second and third than we did in the previous game and the first period," said Jayson Megna, who picked up the Penguins' final goal.
Clearly, they did. Just not soon -- or long -- enough to truly change anything.
Except, perhaps, how they felt about themselves.
Dave Molinari: Dmolinari@Post-Gazette.com and Twitter @MolinariPG.
Shelly Anderson: firstname.lastname@example.org, 412-263-1721 or on Twitter @pgshelly. First Published March 16, 2014 3:07 PM