After getting off to a scorching, 7-1 start this season, the Pittsburgh Penguins now find themselves on a three-game losing skid.
Monday’s 1-0 loss to the Colorado Avalanche was frustrating, as the Penguins dominated puck possession and attempted 72 shots, recording 34. They simply couldn’t get anything past goaltender Jean-Sebastien Giguere – a former Conn Smythe Trophy winner as playoff MVP – including going 0-for-7 on the power play.
Friday’s loss to the New York Islanders and Saturday’s at Toronto, however, were more disheartening. In both contests, the Penguins got off to strong starts, then suffered letdowns that cost them the games.
Friday, Pittsburgh fired a season-high 42 shots at Islanders goalie Evgeni Nabokov but again went empty-handed on an 0-for-5 power play. Then poor defensive coverage, giveaways and odd-man rushes in the last seven minutes of the game turned a 3-2 lead into a 4-3 loss.
“I think their third goal is where this game got away from us,” said head coach Dan Bylsma. “We didn’t support the puck … a loose puck got caught in [Islanders defenseman Radek] Martinek’s skates and they left two guys behind and made that play and got the 2-on-0 goal. Then, with a tied game and 1:50 left, we … got careless with our management of the puck and it turns into a 2-on-1 against. Even when we got back in position, we didn’t take care of the dangerous part of the ice and they got more than one whack at the game-winning goal.”
Saturday, the Penguins got 38 shots against the Maple Leafs, but only Kris Letang’s early power-play goal beat goalie James Reimer, while the Leafs turned their 30 shots into shorthanded, even-strength, power-play and empty-net goals to walk away with a 4-1 win. Pittsburgh outshot Toronto 16-4 in the second period, but the Leafs weathered that storm, opened the third by taking the lead just 1:26 in, then dominated the Penguins with a 13-7 shot advantage in the final frame.
“I think the third period is obviously the difference,” said captain Sidney Crosby. “We did a good job in the second of getting some momentum, didn’t capitalize and then they scored that second goal and got a big boost from that and carried the play in the third.
“We easily could’ve gotten a couple there in the second and maybe it’s a different game. We’ve got to find a way to capitalize.”
Making matters worse, although the Penguins got injured defenseman Letang and forward Matt D’Agostini back over the past two games, they lost a key piece of their blueline Saturday when defensive stalwart Rob Scuderi suffered an apparent leg injury in a board collision with Toronto’s David Clarkson. He joins forwards James Neal and Beau Bennett on the shelf, neither of whom have a timetable for returning from their upper- and lower-body injuries, respectively.
In all, over the three-game losing streak, Pittsburgh has recorded 114 shots on goal, scored on only four of those and gone 1-for-15 on the power play. A team known for its offensive prowess suddenly can’t find a way to score.
Are the injuries up front starting to catch up with the Penguins?
“I think the only situation we’ve run into is just the number of minutes that we’re logging from the top two lines,” Bylsma said after the loss to the Islanders. “Sid and Geno [Malkin] are playing a ton of minutes and that [lack of] depth at the forward position does make that a situation where we’re taxing guys a little too much. But it doesn’t have anything to do with this game, where we let this one go and the mistakes we made.”
The Penguins will attempt to snap their losing streak Monday in Carolina, where they have an opportunity to take advantage of the Hurricanes’ own injury woes. Starting netminder Cam Ward is out three to four weeks with an upper-body injury, while backup Anton Khudobin has missed the past five games with a lower-body issue. Leading scorer Jeff Skinner is also day-to-day.
“At the end of the day, we have to find a way to win,” Letang said.