Pens’ Defense Breaks Down in Ottawa

Since the last time the Pittsburgh Penguins lost in regulation on February 19, the league’s highest-scoring team has twice piled on opponents with eight goals in a single contest. Saturday, facing the league’s sixth most productive offensive club in Ottawa, the Penguins found themselves on the other side of an eight-goal outburst, losing 8-4 to the Senators.

Rookie netminder Brad Thiessen didn’t fare well in the toughest test of his NHL career so far – he was previously 3-0 against weaker opponents – but his defense hung him out to dry. The Penguins’ lapses in coverage and 10 turnovers gave the Senators plenty of odd-man rushes, including two breakaways that ended up in the back of the net.

“Right from the start of the second period, we get our stick caught in the net there, missed D-zone coverage and they score a goal, then they score right after on the power play,” said head coach Dan Bylsma. “At that point, we’re chasing, and they took advantage of some missed coverages and kept scoring goals.”

The 26-year-old Thiessen was in net for all eight goals against – partly because starter Marc-Andre Fleury was being saved for a divisional showdown Sunday against the New Jersey Devils, but also because his club couldn’t direct much of the blame his way.

“I can’t think of one goal off the top of my head that wasn’t a good goal,” Bylsma said. “There wasn’t a whole lot of pucks that he had a real chance [to stop].”

Pittsburgh’s poor defensive showing wasted another two-goal effort by Cooke – his third in just over a week – and Sidney Crosby’s first tally in six games since he’s returned to the lineup. Crosby and Cooke’s sometimes linemate, Tyler Kennedy, added the other Penguins goal.

The Penguins also wasted an opportunity to keep pace with the New York Rangers, whom they’re chasing for the first-place spot in the Eastern Conference that can only be earned by winning the Atlantic Division. With a 4-3 shootout win Saturday in Toronto, the Rangers restored a three-point lead over Pittsburgh, which still has a game in hand on New York.

That extra game comes Sunday in Pittsburgh against the Devils, always a strong defensive team that will be more than happy to exploit the Penguins’ deficiencies if they don’t tighten up. The Penguins also face the Rangers once more in a contest that could well decide the final standings.

“The motivator is first in the division,” Bylsma said. “That is something we talked about at the beginning of the year and something we wanted to do, be in [one of] the top three spots going into the playoffs, and that would mean we’re going to be first in the conference if we do that.

“We certainly have had our eyes on it for a while. We knew we’d probably have to beat the Rangers all three times [in their final meetings] to do it, and that’s still probably going to be the case.”

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