If the Penguins are frustrated following their 3-2 shootout loss in Chicago, followed by a 1-0 blanking at the hands of the rival Washington Capitals, head coach Dan Bylsma hopes it’s a feeling that dissipates quickly.
“We’re not going to worry ourselves too much about the outcome when we know that’s exactly how we need to play and our guys worked hard playing that way,” said Bylsma, after an effort against Washington that saw his injury-riddled roster dominate in puck possession and scoring chances, but not on the scoreboard.
“It doesn’t matter what the score is, it doesn’t matter who’s in the lineup. That’s exactly where and how you need to play, and our guys kept playing there,” Bylsma said. “We believe, if we keep playing just like that, you’re going to win hockey games, you’re going to get goals, you’re going to get chances.”
Pittsburgh came out firing Monday, taking an 18-7 shot advantage in the first period and outshooting the Capitals 14-3 in the third. But Washington had the edge in the second frame, and that’s when captain Alex Ovechkin beat goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury with a near-perfect shot that was all the Capitals needed.
That goal came on the power play, where Pittsburgh went 0-for-3. “Obviously the special teams battle is a big one, and we lost that,” said center Jordan Staal.
Still, with a total of 39 shots on goaltender Michal Neuvirth – not to mention a couple of bad bounces and hit posts – and a second consecutive strong effort that came up short, the Penguins couldn’t be blamed for shaking their heads a little after the game. After dropping six of their last eight, Pittsburgh’s got to be wondering what it’s going to take to get two points.
“I think it’s just a goal” that was missing from the team’s effort, said Staal, one of five Penguins with five shots Monday. “We created a lot of opportunities, a lot of shots. It just didn’t quite come through for us. In the game before, as well, we kept pushing through and we found a way to at least get a point. It’s been two pretty solid games for us and, obviously, we want to keep getting better.”
With nine injured forwards, the Penguins will be looking to winger James Neal, acquired Monday from the Dallas Stars, to help convert some of those opportunities into goals. The 23-year-old power forward has a hard shot that’s made him a 20-goal scorer all three of his years in the NHL.
“We’re going to get a 30, 35 goal scorer out there. He’s been a force in this league and we’re really excited having him on our team,” said forward Max Talbot. “When you’ve got guys down and our offense obviously hasn’t been able to score as many goals, getting a goal scorer like him is welcome.”
Neal and defenseman Matt Niskanen will join their new team Wednesday as the Penguins prepare to take on the San Jose Sharks. For Pittsburgh, the challenge will be to remember what they’ve been doing right over the past couple of games, even if the effort hasn’t necessarily translated into points in the standings.
“We controlled just about every aspect of that game [against Washington]; we just couldn’t find a way to put the puck in the net,” said forward Mike Rupp. “If we’re playing the way we did tonight, I like our chances.
“It’s frustrating to drop a couple, win one, drop a couple. But we’ve always said we like when our game’s going a particular way, and the wins will eventually come. Right now, it seems like we’re going in a good way, but the wins aren’t there. Hopefully, we’ll work ourselves out of it.”
And, with scorers like Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin out of the lineup, the Penguins are starting to get a pretty good idea of how they’re going to have to play to give themselves a chance.
“We’ve got to make sure we play our game no matter what, and we have to work hard,” said defenseman Zbynek Michalek, another five-shot contributor against the Capitals who also blocked four. “We see that every game is close, one-goal games most of the time, and small mistakes can hurt you.
“We can build on this game and bring it to Wednesday’s game. If we keep playing like this, we will win some games eventually.”