Ron Cook: Overtime loss an oddly encouraging result for Penguins
January 6, 2016 12:00 AM
Pittsburgh Penguins Kris Letang celebrate his goal in the third period against the Chicago Blackhawks at Consol Energy Center.
By Ron Cook / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
Not long ago, the Penguins’ 3-2 overtime loss Tuesday night to the Chicago Blackhawks would have been considered another disappointing home loss. But now? The way the Penguins have fallen? The way our expectations for them have dropped? It didn’t seem so bad. It almost seemed encouraging.
That doesn’t change the bottom line. The Penguins sunk to a dismal 10-7-4 on Consol Energy Center ice with the defeat. With just two games left before the halfway point of their season, they remain out of the Eastern Conference playoff field.
But the Penguins, coming off nice wins against the New York Islanders and Detroit, continued to do some good things. They battled back to force overtime after trailing, 2-0, after two periods. “I think our team should feel good about themselves,” coach Mike Sullivan said. “I thought we were hard to play against tonight.” Of greater significance, Sidney Crosby continued to do good things. He had a goal and an assist, his fifth multi-point game in his past eight games. “I thought he was terrific tonight,” Sullivan said. “He was a threat.”
It is fair to think the Penguins — 4-1-2 in their past seven games — deserved a better result against the defending Stanley Cup champion.
Certainly, no one in the Consol crowd went home feeling too disappointed. This was one of the most entertaining games of the season. The three-on-three overtime alone was worth the price of a ticket with so many stars on the ice delivering one great scoring chance after another before Chicago’s Artemi Panarin finally won it by lifting a shot over goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury.
The Penguins, though they wanted two points, were glad to get at least one on this night.
“We need every point we can get,” Crosby said. “To stay with it and not get frustrated and trust that the puck would go in, I thought that was really important. Maybe that’s a point that, down the road, we’re looking at as a big one. Hopefully, this is something we can look back at as where we turned the corner.”
Crosby led the comeback. He scored the Penguins’ first goal, blasting a wrist shot by goaltender Corey Crawford early in the third period to extend his goal-scoring streak to four games, his first such streak in more than five years. He nearly had another goal just a few seconds later, hitting the left post with a backhander. He picked up an assist on Kris Letang’s tying goal with 2:50 left in regulation and could have had at least two or three other assists had teammates been able to convert his passes. Linemates Chris Kunitz and David Perron couldn’t deliver after great passes from Crosby. Letang had two other good chances set up by Crosby.
Crosby has six goals and six assists in his past 12 games. Where was that earlier in the season?
A better question: Can we expect it to continue?
“I feel good,” Crosby said. “I feel, as a line, we’re generating chances. Sometimes, you get a lot of shots, but there’s not a ton of chances. Tonight, we had a lot of Grade-A chances throughout the game. I know if we get those looks every night, we’re going to score more than a couple of goals.”
“We have some dynamic players, and they’re starting to heat up.”
Nobody more than Crosby, who, clearly is feeling better about himself and his game. Just two weeks ago, he was widely criticized for failing to earn his $12 million salary. Now, suddenly, he has taken his place alongside Malkin, Kane and Toews among the NHL’s great players.
“You’ve got to earn the [goals and points], right?” Crosby said. “You work hard and trust that the chances and the goals will come. I think that’s really been my mindset. It’s not a coincidence. Hard work allows you to get those opportunities.”
It figures to take an even better effort tonight from Crosby and the Penguins for the team to get another point or two in the rematch in Chicago. The Blackhawks are 15-5-1 on home ice. At least the Penguins made the trip with a little confidence.
“I believe in this group,” Sullivan said. “I think we’re making progress.”
Crosby is leading the way.
That is as it should be.
Ron Cook: email@example.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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