For the Pittsburgh Penguins, what could have been a momentum-building 4-1 win over the Nashville Predators Friday ended up being a temporary life ring amidst a sea of concerning trends.
A team that opened the season 7-1 has now lost four of its last five, and Saturday’s 4-1 loss at New Jersey looked a lot like many in the Penguins’ recent downward trajectory. Pittsburgh dominated the first period, carrying the play and outshooting New Jersey 10-2 with nothing to show for it on the scoreboard. Then, with 18.4 seconds remaining, defenseman Andy Greene took the Devils’ third shot on goal, which deflected and trickled past Pittsburgh netminder Marc-Andre Fleury.
“Their first goal, how do you teach that?” said Penguins captain Sidney Crosby. “The shots are 10-2 and we get a bad bounce like that, and that’s how it goes sometimes when you’re struggling.”
The Devils sent the Penguins to the first intermission scratching their heads, then came out and started to take control of the contest in the second. By the second intermission New Jersey led 2-1 and, after Pittsburgh couldn’t find a way to draw even on two golden power play opportunities in the third, former Penguins superstar Jaromir Jagr iced the win with even-strength and empty-net goals late in the contest.
“The power play probably hurt us tonight with the opportunities we had in the third to get ourselves back in the game,” Crosby said. “It was another one where we feel like we had our chances to score – and they do play tight here so, if you don’t capitalize on them, you let them hang around, it’s a 50-50 game and they end up capitalizing.”
Aside from struggling with in-game resilience, the Penguins continue to struggle with putting the puck in the net, scoring just one goal in each of their last five losses. Crosby has just one in his last 10 games, while Evgeni Malkin’s inability to find the net has now reached 13 games, the longest stretch of his career, though the star center has contributed 10 assists in that span.
“At the end of the day you’ve got to score and, if you’re getting chances, I don’t know what you really change,” Crosby said. “You try to go to the net just as much, you try to work on those little things – stopping at the net, getting a screen, competing down in those areas. But, ultimately, it’s a matter of putting it in when you get a chance, getting a bounce.
“We’ve just got to find a way to get pucks to the net and trust that, if we keep doing those things consistently and not sometimes, we’ll find ways to score consistently.”
Right now, the Penguins aren’t doing much consistently, except for getting away from their game plan when things aren’t going their way.
“We kind of got away from it as [the game] went on,” said defenseman Brooks Orpik. “In the second period especially, we gave up a lot of 3-on-2’s. I just don’t think we’ve played very well lately as a team, no matter where we’re playing, at home or on the road. I think we’re not playing the way we need to overall.”
“Really, the game [turned] in the second period,” head coach Dan Bylsma agreed. “We gave them three good opportunities on odd-man situations that they capitalized on, [including] the game-winning goal from [defenseman Adam] Larsson there.”
And, when the Penguins got their chances, they didn’t consistently go to the net with them to challenge the Devils’ stingy defense or goaltender Martin Brodeur.
“I think tonight we had three or four good chances in the second period and we didn’t shoot the puck; we passed on those opportunities,” Bylsma said. “There were good people with good opportunities to shoot the puck and we didn’t take them. It’s a tight game, tough to come by offense in this place, with this team. They don’t give up a lot, and they came up with that big goal.”
Pittsburgh’s next opportunity to solve its offensive woes comes Monday, when the Penguins host the Anaheim Ducks. The Ducks and Penguins are nearly even in goals-against on the year, with Anaheim giving up an average of 2.45 goals per game to Pittsburgh’s 2.35. The Ducks have had more success finding the net, however, scoring 3.18 goals per game to the Penguins’ 2.75.
“I think we haven’t given up a lot,” Bylsma said. “We’ve been in tight games, one-goal games, and haven’t been able to win them. That’s a common theme.”