Ron Cook: It's only one game, but Penguins were truly awful



The Penguins looked very much like a team playing just its second game in nine days against one of the worst hockey clubs in the NHL on a nondescript Monday night in January in the middle of a long season in which they are running away with the league's Metropolitan Division.

That's a long way of saying the Penguins were disinterested and stunk in a 5-1 loss to the Florida Panthers at Consol Energy Center.

It happens.

All teams -- even the better teams -- have a few really rotten nights in an 82-game schedule.

I know it happens.

There is no reason to panic.

But who saw this coming?

"We can't play a hockey game like that," captain Sidney Crosby said.

"They beat us in every area," coach Dan Bylsma added.

Who saw it coming?

Who saw the Penguins' franchise-record 13-game winning streak ending against a bad Florida team that came in with an 8-13-3 road record?

Who saw the Penguins -- the top-scoring team in the Eastern Conference -- getting just one goal against Florida backup goaltender Scott Clemmensen, who played because starter Tim Thomas was sick?

Who saw Penguins goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury fishing five pucks out of his net after coming in with 10 consecutive home wins and a 30-3 record and 1.87 goals-against average in his previous 36 games at Consol?

Who saw Florida's Drew Shore scoring not one, but two goals after getting only one in 11 games with the Panthers this season and none in 28 games with San Antonio of the American Hockey League?

Who saw the Penguins' top-rated power play giving up a short-handed goal on its first man-advantage and failing to get a shot on goal on its second?

Who saw the Penguins playing such undisciplined hockey, especially in the second period when Tanner Glass, Crosby and Chris Kunitz took unnecessary penalties?

Really?

Sure, it happens.

But this bad?

"I don't think we gave ourselves a chance," Crosby said. "The way we executed was bad."

There are explanations, I suppose. The Penguins had been so good, or at least had a good record for so long -- they were 14-2-1 in their previous 17 games and were the only NHL team not to lose in the New Year -- that they were due for an awful performance. They hadn't played since Wednesday night. It can be difficult to get started after such a long break. They worked in three players after long layoffs -- Paul Martin, Chuck Kobasew and Jayson Megna. I was a journalism major in college, but they tell me it takes a little time to build chemistry in hockey.

Crosby didn't want to hear any of it.

"I don't think you're ever due for that."

Penguins defenseman Matt Niskanen talked about the team's compete-level always being strong, about how that reset button never has to be hit. "But we've got to recognize it was awful tonight."

Bad habits and loose play finally caught up with the Penguins. At least that was the feeling in the room after the game. Bylsma and the players haven't been happy with their play for a few weeks even though they've been winning, opening a 13-point lead in their division. Remember veteran defenseman Rob Scuderi speaking up about it harshly after a 4-3 overtime loss Jan. 10 in Edmonton?

"We've got to find a way to put 60 minutes together," Crosby said.

"We've got to be honest with ourselves and realize there's more there from everyone," Niskanen said. "This has been settling in for a while now. We've got to get ourselves going in the right direction."

Bylsma talked about the high number of goals the Penguins have given up since right before the Christmas break. Opponents scored an average of 3.4 goals in the past 11 games, getting four or more in five games.

"Defensive play and taking care of the puck. ... It has lacked," Bylsma said. "Maybe we've gotten away with some of those instances."

The Penguins got away with nothing on this cold winter night.

"They won more battles," Bylsma said. "They had more speed than us. They beat us on special teams and five-on-five. That was indicative of the final score."

Say it one more time ...

It happens.

The Penguins play the Montreal Canadiens Wednesday night at Consol Energy Center.

It's nice to think it won't happen again.


Ron Cook: rcook@post-gazette.com. Ron Cook can be heard on the "Cook and Poni" show weekdays from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. on 93.7 The Fan.

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