During the Penguins’ recent 12-game winning, 15-game unbeaten streak, Pittsburgh’s players often referred to their November 10 loss to the Boston Bruins as a bottoming-out point in their season. The Penguins went into the third period of that contest up, 4-2, and allowed five unanswered goals for a disheartening, 7-4 loss. They obviously learned something from the embarrassment, however, as it was December 14 before they lost again.
Whatever that lesson was, it must bear repeating.
Coming off Saturday’s lethargic, 4-0 loss to the Minnesota Wild, the Penguins knew they had to play better Monday against the Bruins. And they did, for much of the first 56:23 of the hockey game. Pittsburgh got timely goals – one from the fourth line, another from the power play – and a solid performance by goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury. With a 2-0 lead as they entered the third period, the Penguins held on until the clock was ticking down.
That’s when it took the Bruins all of three and a half minutes to pop in four goals and render the rest of Pittsburgh’s efforts meaningless. Two months to the day, Boston had done it to them again.
In fairness, the seeds of the Penguins’ collapse were sewn not just in the final few minutes, but from the start of the third. Pittsburgh was outshot in that frame, 13-2, and outchanced, 7-0, with their two shots consisting of one in the opening minute from defenseman Brooks Orpik, and one in the final seconds, when the collapse was complete and the outcome was assured, from another blueliner, Alex Goligoski. In the final 20 minutes, no Penguins forward had a shot on goal – a clear sign that they had gotten away from the system they want to play, managing the puck and getting to the offensive zone.
“With our puck management, we gave up some chances; [Boston] had some momentum going because it created some offensive zone time, and we weren’t able to stop it,” said head coach Dan Bylsma. “I thought we were decent from the 10-minute mark to the five-minute mark, before we had to kill off two penalties in five and a half minutes.”
Those penalties resulted in two power-play goals for the Bruins. One got them on the board to start the comeback, while the other proved to be the game-winner.
“Our goaltender played outstanding in the game, but the [first] goal’s a bit of a knuckle-puck on him and finds its way in, then we give them another [power play] with two minutes left and, unfortunately, our penalty kill couldn’t come up with that,” Bylsma said. “It’s too many opportunities, and that leads to a lot of the demise there.”
It also led to a strong feeling of déjà vu for the Penguins, who couldn’t even be accused of forgetting how their previous visit from the Bruins unfolded.
“We talked about it right before the third period, how we had a similar, two-goal lead the last time we played them here at home. And we said, ‘Don’t give up any two on ones,’” said Orpik. “That’s exactly what we said before the third period. And [then] we had at least three we gave up, probably more.”
The loss dropped Pittsburgh to 0-3 without captain Sidney Crosby. In those three games, they’ve scored a combined total of three goals. And they’re going to have to get used to life without their leader for a little while longer, as Crosby will not skate until he’s completely symptom-free from his mild concussion.
“We miss him a lot; he’s the best player in the league,” said defenseman Kris Letang. “Obviously you want him back in the lineup, but it’s not a reason for us to blow a 2-0 lead.”
The Penguins now take their first three-game losing streak since October back to Montreal, where the Canadiens handed them a 2-1 shootout loss last Thursday, then to Boston. To turn their slump around, the players spoke of paying attention to the details, and that’s exactly what they worked on before heading on the road.
“Little details of our game that are kind of slipping a bit and not really working for us,” said center Jordan Staal. “Plays on the walls and different things like that.”
“There’s a couple things,” said forward Max Talbot. “Last night, I think we weren’t disciplined at times. We’re the most penalized team in the league, so we need to be better at this.”
And, if this second lesson learned at the hands of the Bruins continues to sting for a while, so much the better.
“I’d like them to remember it,” Bylsma said. “We got beat quite badly against Minnesota and then, last night … it still wasn’t the type of game that we want to play. Certainly there are things we have to take from that game, learn from that game and apply it.
“I think we believe in our group and how we play and who we are. But, without that kind of attention to detail, how we play becomes average.”