Penguins' Simon Despres injured in 5th loss in row
Eric Tangradi, one of the players who has been called on to help fill the void left by the absence of so many injured Penguins, battles for a loose puck against the Senators Tuesday night at Consol Energy Center.
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The Penguins reached a couple of significant milestones Tuesday night in their 5-1 loss against the Ottawa Senators -- the halfway point of the season and, if they are lucky, rock bottom.
Certainly, the Penguins do not want to drop any lower than this: five losses in a row and hanging precariously onto the eighth and final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference with 46 points.
"We've got to come together and dig ourselves out of the hole we've put ourselves in," James Neal said in a subdued but not anger-filled dressing room.
There was no players-only meeting or gauntlet being thrown down publicly.
- Matchup: Penguins at Washington Capitals, 7:38 p.m. today, Verizon Center.
- TV, Radio: NBC Sports Network, WXDX-FM (105.9).
- Probable goaltenders: Marc-Andre Fleury for Penguins. Tomas Vokoun for Capitals.
- Penguins: Are 1-1 against Capitals, including 2-1 victory Dec. 1 in Washington. ... C Evgeni Malkin leads team in points (19), plus-minus rating (+5) on road. ... Have at least one power-play goal in five consecutive away games.
- Capitals: Have 14-5-1 record at home, where they have won four in row. ... D Dennis Wideman has three goals in past five games. ... Are 6-9 in games decided by three or more goals.
- Hidden stat: Penguins are 3-2-1 in second game when playing on consecutive nights.
"The worst thing is to feel sorry for ourselves," winger Tyler Kennedy said. "Right now, we've got to stick together and play for each other."
It is the first time the Penguins have lost five games in a row since Dec. 27, 2009 through Jan. 3, 2010.
And, after finally getting good injury news -- Neal, a top-line winger, played after it was discovered he did not have a broken foot after all, forward Craig Adams was able to shrug off a knee injury he got Sunday in practice, and Arron Asham returned after missing two games -- there was more bad news.
Rookie defenseman Simon Despres left about midway through the first period with an unspecified injury and did not return. He attempted to hit Ottawa's Kaspars Daugavins and went hard into the boards. He appeared somewhat hobbled as he left the ice. Coach Dan Bylsma said Despres needed further evaluation.
Despres was called up from the American Hockey League earlier in the day to replace Paul Martin, who is ill.
The Penguins followed what has become a sickeningly familiar pattern. They were lively at the start and outshot their opponent decidedly through two periods, 22-13.
This time, though, they did not get the opening goal, so the funk that comes with falling behind set in by the time they came out after the first intermission.
"I thought we played great in the first period, then I don't know what happens to us in the second and the third," Kennedy said. "That's one of the things we want to address."
The Senators got goals in the first period from Chris Neil and Bobby Butler, prompting Bylsma to call a timeout after Butler's goal at 14:03.
Ottawa then chased Penguins goaltender Brent Johnson when Jason Spezza made it 3-0 just 1:15 into the second period.
When Marc-Andre Fleury, who replaced Johnson, gave up a Milan Michalek power-play goal at 5:43 of the second period, the Senators had four goals on nine shots. Michalek added a second goal at 12:36 of the third period.
"We didn't respond like we needed to," defenseman Ben Lovejoy said. "We hung both our goalies out to dry."
Finally, at 11:14 of the second period, Evgeni Malkin scored for the Penguins -- and paid for it.
He lifted the puck over the right leg of Senators goaltender Craig Anderson from close range to make it 4-1, and a split second later was checked hard into the post by Ottawa's Sergei Gonchar, a former Penguin and Malkin's close friend.
Malkin was slow to get up, but he remained in the game.
"It's a part of the game," Gonchar said.
"I didn't see he had scored already. I thought there was a chance that if I pushed him a bit, he might miss the puck. I probably hit him a littler harder than I expected."
The crowd of 18,603 at Consol Energy Center, the Penguins' 230th consecutive sellout, booed Gonchar when he touched the puck the rest of the game.
The fans were kinder to their home team, which is struggling mightily to score.
Ottawa, 9-2-1 in its past 12 games, entered the night allowing 3.28 goals a game, among the most in the NHL.
The Penguins have six goals during their five-game skid. Bylsma said against the Senators it was more a matter of pressing from behind.
"You have to keep it out of your net," he said.
The Penguins even got a bit of a break when All-Star defenseman Erik Karlsson was a late scratch for Ottawa because of an unspecified injury.
The Penguins play their next three games on the road, beginning tonight at Washington, and that is a welcome development at this point.
"Guys don't want to sit around and chew on this for any longer than we have to," defenseman Matt Niskanen said. "It might be a good time for us to get out on the road and be together, a little us-against-the-world attitude. It's time for a real desperate effort. It's gut-check time for us right now. We've got to dig deep and keep believing in each other and have a real desperate effort [tonight]."
First Published January 11, 2012 12:00 am