Penguins absorb first loss in regulation since Feb. 19
Matt Cooke's two goals in the first period gave the Penguins a 2-1 lead before the night turned bad in Ottawa.
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OTTAWA -- It would be easy to blame the rookie goaltender for this.
Wouldn't be entirely inappropriate, either.
Brad Thiessen, making his fourth NHL start, stopped just 20 of 28 Ottawa shots in the Penguins' 8-4 loss to the Senators Saturday night at Scotiabank Place. It's safe to say he wasn't a major factor in discussions about who should be awarded the game's three stars.
But this defeat -- the Penguins' first in regulation since Feb. 19, and just their second of any sort in the past 15 (13-1-1) -- hardly could be pinned on one guy.
Or even just a half-dozen.
This was pretty much a team effort.
"We didn't give [Thiessen] much help," center Sidney Crosby said.
"We made some big mistakes and didn't give him a chance."
The loss was as significant as it was rare. It left the Penguins (46-22-6) three points behind the first-place New York Rangers in the Eastern Conference and just two ahead of the fifth-place Philadelphia Flyers.
Mind you, losing in Ottawa is not exactly a novelty. The Penguins are 2-6 in their past eight regular-season visits and have been defeated in four of their past five.
Penguins winger Steve Sullivan left the game in the second period with an unspecified injury. There was no word on its nature or severity, or his availability for the Penguins' game against New Jersey tonight at Consol Energy Center.
Thiessen, it should be noted, wasn't the only rookie goalie in this game.
The Senators, who had lost their previous three games and were 1-3-2 in the previous six, started Ben Bishop, who had just eight NHL appearances on his resume.
Bishop wasn't terribly effective, either, turning aside 17 of 20 shots before leaving the game in the middle of the second period with an apparent leg injury.
He did not depart, however, until after he'd made one of the pivotal plays of the game: A death spiral in the crease that yielded an interference minor against Matt Cooke of the Penguins and led to the goal that put the Senators in front to stay.
Bishop went down in a heap, although Cooke insisted -- and televised replays seemed to confirm -- that there was no particularly good reason for him to do so.
"I didn't touch him," Cooke said.
"It's embarrassing. The referee sees the goalie go down like that and looks to see who it is.
"He doesn't even see the play happen, and then calls a penalty and costs us a goal. You can't guess. They're staring at penalties that they're looking at and not calling, intentionally, so it's frustrating."
Especially when Cooke was in the penalty box as Chris Phillips scored from inside the right circle at 7:05 of the second period to break a 2-2 tie.
"That [penalty call] could have been a turning point," Penguins coach Dan Bylsma said.
It also soured what had been a good start to the evening for Cooke, who recorded his third two-goal game -- and seventh goal overall -- since being put on a line with Crosby six games ago.
Crosby had a stellar assist on Cooke's second goal, executing a spin-a-rama in the right circle while throwing a backhand pass that Cooke steered past Bishop to put the Penguins up, 2-1, at 13:01 of the first.
That was the only time they were ahead. Crosby went on to score at 11:43 of the third to end the 12-game drought that was the longest of his career, but it didn't help the Penguins to salvage points.
That's mostly because the Senators, who had been exploiting defensive lapses by the Penguins for much of the evening, ran off the final three goals, including one by Jason Spezza on a breakaway at 13:16 that snuffed any chance of a Penguins comeback.
"Early on, we were pretty good," Cooke said. "We were playing in the offensive zone, having some shifts.
"After that, we got away from it. We turned the puck over in the neutral zone and didn't make their [defensemen] go back. When you do that, you make for a long night."
The kind of night they can anticipate having occasionally if they don't match the desperation of teams like Ottawa, which had been in clear and present danger and falling out of the top eight in the East.
The Penguins don't have to worry about getting into the playoffs, of course, but they do have to think about how they'll play there.
And they can only hope it won't be anything like they did against Ottawa.
"We weren't anywhere near where we need to be," Cooke said. "That's the bottom line."
Note: The Atlantic Division champion is in line to win the Eastern Conference and the No. 1 playoff seed that goes with it.
98 2. Penguins
96 3. Flyers
Matchup: New Jersey Devils at Penguins, 7:08 p.m. today, Consol Energy Center.
TV, radio: Root Sports, WXDX-FM (105.9).
Probable goaltenders: Marc-Andre Fleury for Penguins. Martin Brodeur for Devils.
Penguins: Have won nine games in row at home and are 15-1 in past 16 there. ... C Evgeni Malkin has 11 goals in 17 games against Atlantic Division opponents. ... Have allowed league-low 10 power-play goals on home ice.
Devils: Are 3-2 against Penguins, including 3-1 victory Jan. 7 at Consol Energy Center. ... C Adam Henrique was in three-way tie for the rookie scoring lead before Saturday night with 47 points. ... Are being outscored, 91-67, in second period.
Hidden stat: Devils are 8-15-4 when tied at first intermission.
First Published March 25, 2012 12:00 am