The Pittsburgh Penguins’ losing streak reached six games Wednesday, with a 1-0 loss to the Washington Capitals that might have been their toughest yet.
The Penguins got a hard-fought, physical effort against the Caps. They got a strong performance from goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury. And, for the eighth consecutive game, they outshot their opponent – this time, 30 to 21 – but came away on the wrong end of the scoresheet.
“Flower – what a job in the net,” said forward James Neal, who’s playing through injury after what was originally diagnosed as a broken foot turned out to be a bone bruise. “It’s frustrating when we don’t get a win for him when he stands on his head like that. That’s the goaltender he is, and we’ve got to bear down and put some pucks in the net for him.”
In the six losses, Pittsburgh has scored a total of just six goals, an average of one per game. That doesn’t allow much of a margin for error, and the club’s defensive mistakes – like a turnover against Washington – have consistently ended up costing them the game.
“[The puck] doesn’t seem to find the back of the net right now, and it seems like every little mistake we make, it’s in the back of our net,” said forward Pascal Dupuis.
“I think, when you’re on one of those losing streaks, it seems like you’re hitting posts, you’re missing open nets or, if you make a mistake, it’s always in the back of the net,” said defenseman Brooks Orpik. “If you’re on a winning streak, you make the same mistakes and they miss the net or you’re getting a lucky goal off a skate. Right now, we’re not getting that.”
Pittsburgh now sits in ninth place in the Eastern Conference, one point behind Washington for the eighth and final playoff spot. Still, the Penguins said, the game against Washington felt like a step in the right direction – especially following a poor showing in a 5-1 loss to Ottawa the night before.
“There are times when you’re searching for a win [to come] out of a losing streak where you have to earn it, and you have to earn it maybe with two or three games,” said head coach Dan Bylsma. “This one was a game where I think there’s a lot there that we earned. We played hard and battled, but didn’t come up with a goal. Certainly getting shut out, losing a game 1-0, is not something we’d like, but we’re going to keep playing that way, and we’ll get wins just like that.”
And, as disappointing as the past two weeks have been, they’re trying hard to avoid getting discouraged.
“We did a lot of good things, but still not good enough to get the win,” Neal said. “It’s tough to keep going in and out, trying to talk about what we need to do better. We just need to get a win, that’s the bottom line. We were right there again, and we’ll go and do the same thing next game.”
They also can’t afford to think about their tough injury situation. For every bit of positive medical news the Penguins receive – such as the continued availability of Neal and Wednesday’s return of forward Dustin Jeffrey after the better part of a year on the shelf – it seems there’s a new player headed to IR, like top defensive prospect Simon Despres, who sustained a sprained knee Tuesday after he was called up to replace an ill Paul Martin. Center Jordan Staal remains at least several weeks from a possible return, while there’s no timeline for captain Sidney Crosby or defenseman Kris Letang, both suffering from concussion symptoms.
Crosby joined the team in Washington and is set to resume skating on his own Friday in Florida. While his teammates said they’re happy to have their leader on the trip, they realize that he’s still likely a number of steps in his recovery away from considering a return to the lineup.
“I don’t think he’s anywhere close to coming back, so we can’t really wait for him,” Orpik said. “The guys who are going to pull us out of this [aren’t] Sid or Letang, it’s the guys right in this room. Obviously, we’d love to have those guys in the lineup, but that can’t be our attitude right now.”
“There’s a lot of character guys in here,” Neal said. “As a team, I think we’ve got to collectively come together here and dig ourselves out of the hole we’ve put ourselves in.”