Penguins fall in Detroit, 3-1
Red Wings captain Nicklas Lidstrom pushes Penguins captain Sidney Crosby away from the goal during the third period of Detroit's 3-1 home win at Joe Louis Arena, Monday.
Penguins forward Ruslan Fedotenko is sealed off from the Red Wings goaltender Jimmy Howard during the first period.
Red Wings forward Henrik Zetterberg rushes the puck up ice during the second period.
Red Wings forward Henrik Zetterberg makes an interior pass while being defended by Penguins forward Michael Rupp during the third period.
Red Wings forward Valtteri Filppula, left and defenseman Brian Rafalski try to get the puck out of their defensive end while being chased by Penguins captain Sidney Crosby.
Red Wings forwards Tomas Holmstrom and Pavel Datsyuk battle for the puck with Penguins defenseman Alex Goligoski during the second period.
Red Wings forward Pavel Datsyuk, left and Tomas Holmstrom battle with Penguins forward Jordan Staal, left, and defenseman Alex Goligoski during the second period.
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DETROIT -- The Penguins have talked a lot this season about the need to get to their game.
Sounds like a swell idea.
With nine games left in the regular season, it's something they might want to think about doing. Soon.
If they're interested in putting up more than a cursory defense of the Stanley Cup championship they earned last spring, anyway.
There have been some nights this season when all the elements of their game meshed, and they looked as good -- or better -- than any other club in the NHL.
But there also have been far too many, like part of their 3-1 loss Monday night to Detroit at Joe Louis Arena, when the lapses and letdowns have been far too numerous, stretches when they made a good opponent look great and a great one look invincible.
It's not that they were awful against the Red Wings. Detroit is a quality team and has been surging through the Western Conference standings in recent weeks.
What's more, the Penguins got an excellent performance from goalie Marc-Andre Fleury -- whose 30-save effort was marred only by a so-so goal early in the third period -- and some more excellent work from their penalty-killers, who snuffed all four Detroit power plays.
But they also tested Red Wings goalie Jimmy Howard only occasionally over the course of the game, and more than a few of the Penguins did not compete with the intensity needed if they expect to be a factor in the postseason.
"It seems like some guys are in it one night, and other guys aren't," defenseman Brooks Orpik said. "And the next night, maybe the handful that was, isn't. Role reversal. There's really no excuse for it.
"You see some of the goals or some of the battles, just small puck battles, it seems like, and we're losing them. To me, it's just battle level."
Penguins coach Dan Bylsma praised the Red Wings' effort -- "Their battle level was high. They were definitely a desperate team" -- but agreed that his team has not regularly played with the urgency that will be required during the playoffs.
"We're going to keep pushing and keep trying to get better, and I think our level needs to come up, in terms of desperation, to get to that game that we need to get to heading into the playoffs," he said.
They will also need strong goaltending, and Fleury gave them that throughout the game.
The goal he gave up to Henrik Zetterberg from the slot 80 seconds into the third period might have snuffed any realistic comeback hopes the Penguins had, but they had been in position to steal a point or two mostly because of saves Fleury had turned in earlier in the game, especially during two Red Wings power plays in the first period.
"[Fleury] played great," Orpik said. "That's as well as he's played in a long time. Even giving up three goals, the quality of shots he faced was pretty good."
Valtteri Filppula put Detroit in front to stay with 55.9 seconds left in the opening period, and Zetterberg made it 2-0 by backhanding his own rebound by Fleury at 7:38 of the second.
Pascal Dupuis countered for the Penguins during a goal-mouth scramble at 16:54, his 18th, but Zetterberg closed out the scoring early in the third.
The Penguins played without center Evgeni Malkin, who re-injured his right foot late in their 3-2 overtime loss Saturday to Carolina and did not dress for the third time in four games.
They have won just three of the 10 games he has missed this season.
They are 42-25-6 and remain in first place in the Atlantic Division. They are two points ahead of second-place New Jersey, but the Devils have two games in hand.
Both teams are trying to hold off Buffalo for the No. 2 seed in the Eastern Conference, although Orpik suggested the Penguins would be wise to focus on other matters at the moment.
"We haven't guaranteed ourselves anything, especially with the way teams behind us are playing," he said. "The last thing we should be thinking about is the playoffs right now."
They probably would be better served by emphasizing how they're capable of playing, and trying to do it consistently, before having to open defense of their Cup in mid-April.
"We've done it this year, at points," Fleury said. "We know we have it in the room. I don't know why we're not playing the way we could."
First Published March 23, 2010 12:00 am