Penguins' flaws surfaced again in shootout loss
Evgeni Malkin hangs his head after the Nashville Predators tied the score Sunday at Mellon Arena. Nashville won in a shootout, 4-3.
Kris Letang is stopped by Predators goalie Dan Ellis in the shootout Sunday.
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There are 20 games left in the Penguins' regular season, and almost that many issues that could trouble them as they enter the Olympic break.
Like how, with three-quarters of their 82-game schedule past, they remain prone to defensive-zone breakdowns, poor decision making and needless penalties.
How their only true winger with more than 13 goals is a 39-year-old, and how another, Ruslan Fedotenko, is now laboring on the No. 4 line only because there isn't a fifth.
How their No. 2 scorer owns a 13-game points streak that masks the sub-par quality of his overall game.
How they failed to protect three one-goal leads in a 4-3 shootout loss to Nashville Sunday at Mellon Arena, less than 48 hours after squandering a 1-0 advantage in what became a 3-2 overtime defeat by the New York Rangers there.
And especially how all of those factors, along with more than a few others, have combined to prevent them from claiming at least a share of first place in the Atlantic Division, where they trail New Jersey by a point despite playing one more game than the Devils.
Oh, they wouldn't object to looking down at New Jersey, but their focus when the break ends apparently will be not on where they sit in the standings, but on correcting the flaws that got them there.
"I'm not really concerned about overtaking the Devils, to be honest with you," said Bill Guerin, who leads Penguins wingers with 17 goals.
"I'm concerned about our team getting to be able to play the way we can play. That's what's more important now. It's not overtaking the Devils. It's playing our brand of hockey, and we're not there yet."
They are not all that close, really. At least not with any sort of regularity.
While the Nashville game didn't feature the sort of ghastly lapse they had during the first half of the second period against the Rangers, they still took some pointless penalties -- an offensive-zone hooking minor by Pascal Dupuis, for example, and an interference infraction by Evgeni Malkin, who has points in 13 consecutive games, with less than two minutes left in regulation -- and allowed Nashville to score twice on long-range shots that goalie Marc-Andre Fleury likely never saw.
And that doesn't count a Keystone Cops collision between Mark Letestu and Jay McKee that led directly to a Predators goal 12 seconds after Matt Cooke had given the Penguins a 2-1 lead.
Coach Dan Bylsma declined to discuss any lack of discipline his players showed in taking some of their eight minor penalties, although he praised the Penguins' penalty-killers for snuffing six of Nashville's seven power plays.
Bylsma said that trying to establish an identity, to "give other teams an understanding" of what they will have to deal with when facing the Penguins, will be a priority when the Penguins return from the break, and doing that will be a lot easier with Sidney Crosby in the lineup.
That looked far from certain when Crosby, who opened the scoring against Nashville with his 42nd goal of the season, blocked a shot by Nashville's Kevin Klein with his right foot in the middle of the second period.
He was doubled over on the bench in obvious discomfort after leaving the ice, but did not miss a shift and logged 23 minutes and 7 seconds of ice time, the most of any forward on either team.
"Getting hit is normal," said Crosby, who will play for Canada at the Olympics. "I don't think it's going to be the last puck I get in the next couple of weeks."
Sunday's shootout won't necessarily be the last one he is in for a while, either -- those are used to break ties in the Olympics if a 10-minute overtime fails to do so -- although it reminded him that simply getting into one doesn't assure victory.
It's understandable if Crosby and his teammates had felt that way before Sunday. After all, they had been 7-0 in shootouts, Crosby had scored on six of seven tries and Fleury had rejected 14 of 15 shooters.
The updated numbers, after Crosby and Kris Letang failed to beat Predators goalie Dan Ellis and Cal O'Reilly and Martin Erat scored on Fleury: 7-1, 6 for 8, 14 of 17.
The Penguins' most important statistic -- their 36-22-4 record -- hardly is cause for alarm, but the way they've earned it gives them plenty on which to work after the break.
"We're aware of the standings," defenseman Brooks Orpik said. "But what we're really worried about is just trying to clean up our game, and let that other stuff take care of itself."
First Published February 15, 2010 12:00 am