Gonchar penalty costly as Penguins fall to Ottawa, 5-4
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OTTAWA -- Penguins veteran Sergei Gonchar has 10 goals, 52 points this season, putting him near the top of the scoring leaders among NHL defensemen.
He has played in nearly 900 games and has 602 points.
He is prolific on the point and steadily has been near the top in power-play points and power-play assists. He picked up his 38th power-play point yesterday in a 5-4 loss to the Senators at Scotiabank Place.
But that stick of his occasionally gets Gonchar into trouble. It certainly did yesterday.
This time, it wasn't a hooking penalty, something he gets tagged for more often than he no doubt cares for.
With the score tied, 3-3, Gonchar was given a double-minor penalty at 13:40 of the second period for cross-checking Ottawa captain Daniel Alfredsson near the Penguins' net.
"He could have called eight minutes if he wanted to call every cross-check he threw at me," Alfredsson said.
The four were plenty.
Ottawa got goals from Martin Lapointe and Dany Heatley during the long power play, and that was enough to boost the Senators past the Penguins in a heated four-team race for the Eastern Conference title.
The Penguins have 79 points, Ottawa 80. That gave the Senators a share of the top spot pending the outcome of a matchup between New Jersey and Montreal later last night.
Center Evgeni Malkin had a goal and two assists for the Penguins, increasing his league-leading point total to 87 and bettering by two the number he reached last season as a rookie.
His goal was the final one of the game, at 14:06 of the third period, an unassisted job off of a 3-on-2 breakaway created by an Ottawa turnover as the Penguins frantically tried to overcome Gonchar's gaffe.
"That was the turning point to the game," Penguins coach Michel Therrien said of Gonchar's cross-check. "I don't get why four minutes."
He didn't get answers from the officials.
"Let's put it this way: It's really tough to communicate," Therrien said, and he did not mean because of his French accent.
There was no breakdown in communication between Therrien and his players.
During practice here a day earlier, the coach admonished the Penguins for a downturn in focus and work ethic lately. He had no lingering beef yesterday.
"I liked the effort," Therrien said. "Sometimes, the results aren't there, but the guys battled hard.
"Usually, you score four goals on the road, you should win. It's tough for us to give up five goals on 19 shots."
The Penguins opened the scoring at 8:43 of the first period when Ryan Malone, driving to the net, redirected a pass from Malkin past Ottawa goaltender Martin Gerber. Malone had been held without a point the previous three games.
Ottawa took a 2-1 lead with goals 1:01 apart later in the first period. Antoine Vermette swatted Wade Redden's slap shot past goaltender Ty Conklin at 15:11, and Alfredsson's wrist shot to the near side from the left dot glided over Conklin's shoulder at 16:12.
Alfredsson had just one goal in his previous nine games, that one also against the Penguins.
The Penguins regained a tie, 2-2, with 11.9 seconds left in the first period with a power-play goal. Petr Sykora's bullet of a wrist shot eluded Gerber on the short side.
The teams traded goals early in the second period. With Ottawa shorthanded, Alfredsson blocked a shot by Gonchar and went racing after the puck for a breakaway and a goal at 1:30.
The Penguins tied it again, 3-3, at 2:35, just after the power play ended, when Malone finished off a shot from the left point by rookie defenseman Alex Goligoski.
The assist was Goligoski's first NHL point. He was filling in for Ryan Whitney, who missed the game because of a groin injury.
Lapointe's go-ahead goal went in off Penguins defenseman Darryl Sydor. Heatley's winner was a one-timer from Alfredsson.
"We put a good effort together," Gonchar said. "We deserved at least a point. Unfortunately, we didn't get it. Part of it was my mistake."
First Published March 2, 2008 12:00 am