The Penguins started their three-game, eight-day road trek by battling back from three separate deficits to win in overtime at Nashville. Two nights later in St. Louis, they went all of regulation without allowing a goal before giving up the only score of the game 50 seconds into overtime.
After a three-day break in sunny Tampa Bay, then, Pittsburgh would figure to be well-rested and ready to wrap up the trip on a high note. And – after they shook off the first goal of the game, which came on the Bolts’ first shot – the Penguins closed out the opening frame with three goals of their own and looked to be cruising.
Craig Adams, who hadn’t had a regular-season goal in 118 games, scored shorthanded and racked up three points for the first time since 2005. Matt Cooke added a second shorthanded goal – on the same Tampa Bay penalty, no less. Finally, after Pascal Dupuis scored the Penguins’ third, Lightning coach Guy Boucher had seen enough and pulled starting netminder Mike Smith in favor of backup Dan Ellis.
And then it all fell apart, as Pittsburgh watched its 3-1 lead evaporate into a 5-3 loss.
The Penguins gave the Lightning too many opportunities on the power play, taking a total of nine penalties and allowing the tying goal on a two-man advantage. Goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury made a few dazzling stops but was again inconsistent – and, though the play was not entirely his fault, surrendered a goal on the first shot he faced for the second time in as many starts. And Pittsburgh failed to capitalize on its own power play chances, going 0-for-5 to finish the road trip a woeful 0-for-15.
A bigger concern for the Penguins, however, might be that they simply weren’t as hungry as Tampa Bay, not as willing to battle for the entire, 60-minute contest.
“You can point at a lot of things. We took a lot of penalties, but I think it was more [that] we kind of sat back when we got to 3-1, 3-2, and they kept chasing the game for 60 minutes,” said defenseman Brooks Orpik. “That was the difference, I thought, the attitude and mentality they played with as opposed to the way we played.”
The loss dropped Pittsburgh’s record to 5-4-1, good for first place in the Atlantic Division and third place in the Eastern Conference. That’s not a poor showing by any means, but the Penguins aren’t satisfied, especially after returning home on such a sour note.
“After the way we lost last night, maybe it gets a little more attention,” Orpik said. “But I’d rather do it now than April or May. Hopefully we learn from it and don’t make the same mistakes as we go on.”
The Penguins hope to get back into the win column when they get back on home ice Friday, for what is already their third meeting against the rival Philadelphia Flyers in this young season.
“They’re the Flyers; they [always] play the same way,” said Dupuis. “They’re a good team, obviously the emotion will be there and, hopefully, we’ll use it to our advantage.”
Friday’s contest also marks the first meeting of new Penguin Arron Asham, who returned in Tampa Bay from a preseason shoulder injury, against his former club. Asham’s tough, agitating style of play made him something of a prototypical Flyer, and he doesn’t plan to let his injury hamper his game.
“I can’t go out there and try to play a skill game, because that’s not my game,” Asham said. “I’ve got to go out there and bang and create space for who I’m with. I’m definitely going to be trying to throw as many hits as I can and get my body and my mind into it.”