Lowly Panthers pound Penguins, 6-1
Evgeni Malkin waits out the game's final seconds.
Frustration boils over as Sidney Crosby takes down Gregory Campbell in a round of fisticuffs midway through the second period at Mellon Arena.
Panthers goalie Craig Anderson denies Evgeni Malkin in the first period.
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The Penguins didn't call a players-only meeting after their 6-1 loss against Florida at Mellon Arena yesterday, which was a bit of a surprise.
Perhaps, it was because they had tried that four days earlier.
Or maybe because someone feared that, based on their performance against the Panthers, not enough guys qualified to give them a quorum.
For while the Penguins have managed to outdo themselves quite a few times this season -- witness how they topped a four-goal loss to Toronto at home Dec. 20 by being shut out by Tampa Bay three nights later -- being humiliated by a team that was 0-3-1 in its previous four games rivals just about any other low they've hit.
If, by chance, the Penguins haven't reached the bottom of the barrel -- "I certainly hope so," defenseman Rob Scuderi said -- they're close enough that they can smell it. And it isn't pleasant.
Although not their worst showing of the season -- the Penguins actually had the better of the play for much of the afternoon -- bad special-teams play and worse goaltending removed any suspense about the outcome.
Appropriately, if not significantly, the loss, coupled with Buffalo's 4-2 victory in Boston, dropped the Penguins (19-16-4) into ninth place in the Eastern Conference.
That means that if the season ended today, which it won't, they would not qualify for the playoffs one season after coming within two victories of a Stanley Cup.
Of course, the Penguins did some things differently during 2007-08, like scoring on power plays now and then. That's something they haven't accomplished for six games, a futility streak of 24 chances.
They also won games at Mellon Arena, which seems to be too much to expect of the current group.
The loss to Florida not only was the Penguins' fourth in a row overall, their longest such streak of 2008-09, but their fifth consecutive at home. The franchise record of 14 home-ice defeats in a row set during the 2003-04 season isn't in danger -- not yet, anyway -- but this skid still ranks among the worst in team history.
The Penguins' frustrations spilled over in the final minutes of the second period, when two guys who don't fight much -- Max Talbot and Sidney Crosby -- got involved in on-ice skirmishes two seconds apart.
Talbot had a spirited exchange of punches with Gregory Campbell, and Crosby, who had only one previous fight in the NHL, pummeled Brett McLean, an apparent pacifist.
Those bouts gave the standing-room crowd of 17,042 a rare opportunity to cheer -- the most exciting development to that point had been the introduction of anthem singer Jeff Jimerson -- but fittingly, it was the Panthers who scored in the resultant four-on-four situation.
General manager Ray Shero did not witness the game first-hand because he's scouting the world junior championships in Ottawa, but, while he is not one to act in haste, it's hardly out of the question that Shero will contemplate the merits of a major personnel move.
When asked at the conclusion of his postgame press conference if the Penguins can win with their current collection of players, coach Michel Therrien did not respond.
Of course, bringing in a goal-scoring winger or another physical defenseman wouldn't help much if the Penguins make a habit of allowing opponents to shoot 6 for 24 from the field, as the Panthers did.
Goalie Marc-Andre Fleury played the first and third periods, while Dany Sabourin went in for the second. Both stopped nine of 12 shots.
Neither was honored as one of the game's three stars, but that doesn't mean they didn't affect the outcome.
"Both of those guys, they didn't do the job," Therrien said. "You can't win -- it's impossible to win in this league -- if you don't have solid goaltending."
The Penguins didn't, and the problems began with Florida's first goal, when Fleury inexplicably moved to the far side of his crease just before Ville Peltonen flipped in a shot from above the left circle at 10:12 of the opening period.
That was just No. 1 in a series of bad goals and, when they finally stopped, the Penguins had nothing to show for their afternoon's work except a few new unpleasant questions and realities.
"Today was tough," Crosby said. "It was tough. As a team, you don't want to play like that. You don't want to lose like that at home. We haven't played well.
"We wanted to make our fans happy and proud. But first things first: We've got to find a way to be better, whether it's home or on the road, wherever it may be. We've got to be better."
Seems reasonable, if only because things can't get much worse.
First Published January 4, 2009 12:00 am