Penguins center Oskar Sundqvist chases the puck after Tampa Bay Lightning center Steven Stamkos on Frida in Tampa, Fla. The Penguins fell to the Lightning, 6-3.
By Dave Molinari / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
TAMPA, Fla. — The Penguins are starting to get the hang of that good-starts thing.
It’s what comes after that has been giving them problems lately.
They dominated play early Friday night at Amalie Arena, running up a 10-1 edge in shots midway through the first period, but that wasn’t enough to save them from a 6-3 loss against Tampa Bay.
Three nights earlier, they had controlled the opening period against Ottawa, but eventually were forced to rally from a 4-3 deficit before eking out a 6-5 victory.
This time, they couldn’t even take a lead into the first intermission, as the Lightning put two of its five shots past goalie Marc-Andre Fleury, while the Penguins shot 1 for 12 from the field.
“It’s discouraging,” Penguins coach Mike Sullivan said. “We played hard [in the first period]. We played the right way, for the most part, and we don’t get rewarded for it.”
He also acknowledged, though, that the Penguins gave the Lightning several quality scoring chances in those opening 20 minutes.
Tampa Bay defenseman Anton Stralman beat Fleury from above the left hash at 11:50 to negate a Patric Hornqvist goal at 4:53, and Alex Killorn put the Lightning in front to stay when a Nikita Kucherov shot deflected off him and by Fleury at 18:34.
“It’s hard work to score goals,” Penguins left winger Chris Kunitz said. “We can’t give up easy ones. We can’t leave our goalie where he can’t see a screen shot and let them get a stick on it.”
Fleury allowed two more goals in the second period before being replaced by Jeff Zatkoff, although Sullivan absolved him of any major responsibility for the goals.
“The goals that went in, I think, were high-quality chances,” he said. “I was trying to change the momentum of the game [by switching goalies] at that particular time.”
The loss ended the Penguins’ four-game winning stream and dropped their record to 25-18-7. They are in ninth place in the Eastern Conference.
The Penguins played without two of their top three centers, Evgeni Malkin and Eric Fehr.
Malkin, who also will miss the Penguins’ game tonight against Florida because of an undisclosed injury, was replaced on the second line by Matt Cullen.
Fehr is expected to be out about a month because of an unspecified injury. Kevin Porter replaced him in the middle on the No. 3 line and Tom Kuhnhackl took Fehr’s spot on the penalty-killing unit.
“When we’re short guys, we need to be that much more detailed,” defenseman Brian Dumoulin said. “That’s no excuse. The guys in the lineup, they can play hockey, too.”
The Penguins actually competed pretty evenly with Tampa Bay while playing five-on-five, but self-destructed on special teams. The Lightning scored on one of two tries with the extra man, and got a short-handed goal on the first of the Penguins’ three power plays.
“When you don’t score on the power play, it’s hard enough,” Penguins center Sidney Crosby said. “And then you give up a short-handed goal. It’s not really ideal to get the win [doing that].”
Crosby sliced Tampa Bay’ lead to 3-2 with his 21st goal of the season at 8:04 of the second and, in the process, extended his scoring streak to nine games, but Tyler Johnson scored what proved to be the game-winner on a power play just 71 seconds later.
“We were trying to play catch-up for a good chunk of the game,” Crosby said. “It’s not the way you want to play a game. We had a great start. We have to find a way to maintain that.”
Dave Molinari: Dmolinari@Post-Gazette.com and Twitter @MolinariPG.
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