Penguins lose fourth one-goal game in a row
New Jersey goalie Martin Brodeur, left, denies Sidney Crosby last night at Mellon Arena.
Devils goalie Martin Brodeur makes one of his 25 saves last night, this time stopping Sidney Crosby on a breakaway in the second period.
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The first quarter of the Penguins' season is over, and it has spawned more questions than it has answered.
At least one thing has become quite clear, however: Something has to change. Soon.
Assuming management still plans to spend the money it has budgeted to print playoff tickets, anyway.
The Penguins' 2-1 loss to New Jersey at Mellon Arena last night -- their third home-ice loss to the Devils in little more than a month -- dropped their record to 8-11-1. Over 82 games, that projects to 70 points, which is 22 fewer than were needed to qualify for the Eastern Conference playoffs last spring.
- Matchup: Penguins at Ottawa Senators, 7:38 p.m. today, Scotiabank Place.
- TV, radio: FSN Pittsburgh; WXDX-FM (105.9).
- Probable goaltenders: Marc Andre-Fleury for Penguins. Ray Emery for Senators.
- Penguins: Have lost four of past five away games. ... C Sidney Crosby has just one goal in seven regular-season games against Senators. ... Won season series in 2006-07 (3-1) for first time since 2000-01.
- Senators: Are league-best 10-2 on home ice. ... RW Shean Donovan had three goals, all winners, in Ottawa's first 19 games. ... Had scored five short-handed goals and allowed none before playing in Buffalo last night.
- Hidden stat: Penguins are 2-1 in second game when playing on consecutive nights.
"We have to play better, or we're going to be behind the 8-ball," defenseman Ryan Whitney said. "We can't keep saying, 'Ah, it's early,' because, all of a sudden, it's halfway through the season."
Troubling as the first-quarter numbers appear to be, coach Michel Therrien does not seem to be getting caught up in them. He was asked two questions during his postgame press conference and responded to both in exactly the same way: "It's still early in the season."
That's a matter of perspective. What isn't is that the Penguins have slipped into last place in the Atlantic Division and 13th in the conference, in large part because they went 2-6-1 during the run of nine consecutive games against Atlantic Division opponents that ended last night.
"We have to find ways to win, and it's not going to get any easier," center Sidney Crosby said. "Everyone's improving. We have to find a way."
The Devils became the second team this season to hold Crosby without a point. Carolina did it in the opener, after which Crosby put together a career-best 19-game scoring streak.
The game began on a wild note -- Penguins winger Ryan Malone and David Clarkson of the Devils had a vigorous exchange of punches two seconds after the opening faceoff -- but that was one of the few times the Penguins registered a visible pulse during the first 20 minutes.
New Jersey's Zach Parise got the only goal of the period by beating goalie Marc-Andre Fleury from along the goal line to the right of the net during a power play at 14:50. Parise scored four seconds after the Penguins survived a two-man disadvantage that lasted 59 seconds.
The Penguins got their first chance with the extra man at 10:14 of the second, and Devils goalie Martin Brodeur was forced to make a good glove save on ex-teammate Petr Sykora from in front of the net.
The Penguins had an even better scoring opportunity during a Devils power play late in the period, however.
Crosby got a short-handed breakaway while the Penguins were killing a holding minor to Colby Armstrong, but was unable to beat Brodeur. Neither was New Jersey forward Jamie Langenbrunner, who knocked the rebound of Crosby's shot back at Brodeur.
Parise struck again at 2:33 of the third, throwing in a rebound from below the right dot during a power play for what proved to be the winner.
That goal came while Crosby was serving a tripping penalty. When Crosby left the penalty box, he was unhappy enough about the call that he was slapped with an unsportsmanlike-conduct minor.
The Penguins got back into the game courtesy of a gaffe by New Jersey defenseman Johnny Oduya, who lost the puck to Penguins center Evgeni Malkin when he tried to deke past him near the right hash mark in the Devils' end.
Malkin ended up with the puck and whipped it past Brodeur on the stick side to make it 2-1 and run his scoring streak to 14 games.
The Penguins subsequently were awarded three consecutive power plays, including a five-on-three that ran for 29 seconds, but were unable to manufacture the tying goal.
"When you get that opportunity, you have to bury it," Crosby said.
Their last real chance to force overtime came with 3:10 left in regulation, when Kris Letang danced around Devils defenseman Colin White in the slot, only to have Brodeur glove his shot.
"If I went on my backhand, maybe I could have had it," Letang said. "But he made the save. That's his job. He has 500 wins in his career, so he's stopped more difficult pucks than that one."
And so the Penguins played their fourth consecutive one-goal game, three of which have been defeats.
"We're not far off at all," Crosby said. "We're losing one-goal games. ... It's frustrating. I'm not going to sit here and say that it's not.
"But, at the same time, there's nothing we can do but keep going, keep battling."
First Published November 22, 2007 12:00 am