Penguins blow late lead, lose in shootout
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EDMONTON, Alberta -- The Penguins last season got a lot of practice playing -- and doing a fair job of winning -- without top centers Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin.
It was usually a formula that included scrapping for whatever goals they could get, playing positionally sound defense, getting good goaltending and killing penalties with vigor.
They had to revisit that Sunday night against the Edmonton Oilers at Rexall Place when, in the absence of Malkin and Crosby because of injury, the Penguins had to settle for a point in a 2-1 shootout loss to the Oilers.
"I thought in large part we did play that way," Penguins coach Dan Bylsma said.
Jordan Eberle and Linus Omark beat Penguins goaltender Brent Johnson in the shootout, while Edmonton goaltender Devan Dubnyk allowed only James Neal's goal.
In regulation, Kris Letang scored for the Penguins, rookie Ryan Nugent-Hopkins for Edmonton.
Crosby's absence was expected; he has been out since January because of a concussion.
Malkin, though, was a last-minute scratch because of what Bylsma described simply as "soreness."
Malkin played sparingly in the third period of a victory Saturday at Calgary and skated gingerly Sunday in a pregame warm-up.
"We don't think it's a long-term injury," Bylsma said, adding that Malkin could be available for the Penguins' home opener Tuesday against Florida.
If not, the team isn't panicking.
"It's the same story as last year," Neal said. "We've got a strong team. We're not worried about playing without [Crosby] and [Malkin]. They'll get back when they're ready. We've just got to play the right way, the way we know how to, and we'll be fine."
Malkin, 25 and former NHL scoring champion and playoff MVP, has been projected to have a gangbusters season. He missed most of the second half of last season because of a sinus infection and knee surgery but by all accounts had a strong summer of training and rehabilitation.
The point from the shootout loss left the Penguins with five of a possible six points on a season-opening three-game road trip to western Canada.
The Oilers, by contrast, were playing their season opener. They were one of just two teams that had not played a game before Sunday and are coming off of back-to-back seasons in which they finished last in the NHL with 62 points.
The Penguins got their fifth power-play goal of the season, and their most conventional with a man-advantage, for a 1-0 lead in the first.
Letang's blast from the left point squirted in off the pads of Dubnyk, with Penguins winger Chris Kunitz providing a screen in front of the crease, at 3:13.
Letang had what Bylsma called "his strongest game," playing 29 minutes, 16 seconds with six shots and two blocked shots.
The Penguins -- who led the NHL in penalty-killing last season and had snuffed all six opponent power plays through their first two games -- killed all four Edmonton power plays in the first, including 31 seconds of a five-on-three disadvantage, and overall held the Oilers scoreless on five power plays.
The Penguins were 1 for -8 with a man-advantage.
"I just thought special teams was such a factor in the game." Bylsma said. "It used up a lot of energy and a lot of our minutes either killing a penalty or on the power play. We didn't have enough five on five, enough gas in the tank to continue to push and get opportunities to get that second goal."
Edmonton helped keep itself in the game by blocking 20 shots through two periods.
The Penguins, meanwhile, could not get a cushion goal despite changes.
"We did let them hang around," said Neal, who had four shots. "We had some great opportunities to score."
Nugent-Hopkins scored in his first NHL game to tie it, 1-1, at 15:05 of the third. He stuffed home a backhander through a crowded crease, ending Johnson's shot at his 15th career shutout.
"We let them stick around too long," said Penguins winger Tyler Kennedy, who had five shots. "We didn't bury our chances we had.
"They scored that goal. I don't know if it deflated us, but it might have put us on our heels a little bit."
Johnson stopped 34 shots through regulation and overtime in his first start of the season.
"[Johnson] was great in net," Letang said.
First Published October 10, 2011 12:58 am