Ron Cook: Penguins' first game back was a sore sight for sore eyes

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Before his team played the Montreal Canadiens Thursday night at Consol Energy Center, Penguins coach Dan Bylsma predicted a little bad hockey because of the long Olympic break. He had it all wrong. There was a lot of bad hockey, especially by the home club.

Bad turnovers. Bad penalties. Bad defense. Bad lead management. Bad penalty-kill. Bad shootout.

You name it, it was bad for the Penguins.

Certainly, the 6-5 loss to a team that came in with 12 fewer points was bad.

But before we dissect it, something needs to be said right here:

It was nice to have the Penguins back on Pittsburgh ice after nearly three long weeks away.

It was nice to have the NHL back even if the result was far from satisfying.

"We have to make sure we're better than this moving forward," Penguins captain Sidney Crosby said.

The Penguins' 23 remaining games figure to be a lot better, if only because they can't be worse.

Bad turnovers? The first one by Brandon Sutter was painful, leading to an early goal by Brendan Gallagher and a 1-0 Montreal lead.

Bad penalties? Penguins stars Evgeni Malkin and Crosby took two of the dumbest you'll see. Malkin foolishly slashed Montreal defenseman P.K. Subban right in front of a referee, putting the Canadiens on a power play early in the third period. Moments later, Crosby foolishly slashed defenseman and old teammate Douglas Murray an instant after Murray was called for roughing him, wiping out what should have been a Penguins power play.

Then, with little more than seven minutes left, Tanner Glass took a five-minute elbowing major and game misconduct that led to Montreal's tying goal late. Bylsma said the replay indicated there shouldn't have been a penalty called on Glass' hit of defenseman Alexei Emelin. "Unfortunately, the referee doesn't get to see a replay," Bylsma said.

Bad defense? Penguins goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury didn't get much help all night. He fished five pucks out of his net in regulation.

Bad lead management? The Penguins blew 4-3 and 5-4 leads in the third period. Don't you have to close out that kind of game at home?

Bad penalty-kill? The Canadiens scored on two of their four man-advantages, including the goal by Daniel Briere that made it 5-5 on the Glass major. Essentially, they scored a third power-play goal because Malkin was just out of the box when Emelin scored to make it 4-4.

"The PK definitely gave up more goals than we would have liked," Sutter said.

Bad shootout? James Neal, Crosby and Malkin all failed to score against goaltender Peter Budaj, who got the start in place of injured Carey Price, the star of Canada's Olympic gold-medal squad. When your best scorers can't beat a backup goalie, your team probably doesn't deserve to win.

And so the Penguins didn't.

That doesn't mean they didn't have their moments.

Neal was the best player on the ice. He scored his 21st goal on a wicked wrist shot that somehow snuck under Budaj's arm on the short side. Neal nearly got his 22nd a little later when his shot made it through Budaj only to hit the left post.

The Penguins' youngest star and brightest star each scored a power-play goal. Olli Maatta continued to play as if he's 29 instead of 19, his slap shot through traffic beating Budaj to give the Penguins a 3-2 lead. Crosby scored on a rebound after a Malkin shot to make it 5-4.

But the most entertaining moment came when Sutter picked Subban clean at mid-ice and scored on a breakaway to give the Penguins a 4-3 lead early in the third period. Subban is a villain here and is booed each time he touches the puck. That goes back to an incident in the 2010 playoffs when he sliced Penguins center Jordan Staal's foot with his skate.

The big crowd roared when Sutter made Subban look so bad.

"It's nice when it goes in," Sutter said of his goal. "But when you get scored on 10 seconds later, it doesn't feel so good."

Actually, Emelin's goal for the Canadiens came 24 seconds later, but who's counting?

You get Sutter's point.

It was that kind of night for the Penguins.


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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