The Penguins didn't come out of the gates very strong today, but one man did. Martin St. Louis, presumably fuming over being left off Team Canada's roster, was awesome in the game, especially early. He roofed a backhander about 1 minute into the game for the goal and kept on buzzing; in one instance he hit a cross-bar, another time he pick-pocketed a Penguin in the Pens' zone generating another chance.
Bill Guerin would score a goal off a Jordan Staal rebound before the first was over, even though Pittsburgh was outworked, they were tied on the scoreboard after 1. From that point until the mid-point of the second period, the Penguins had 3 full power-plays. And while the PP did have a lot of zone time, a bunch of good passes and attempts on the net, they didn't score. At that point the bottom dropped out a little when the Pens couldn't convert and then they watched Zenon Konopka get a dirty one from right in front.
Marc-Andre Fleury would try to do his part when he stretched out wide and stopped Vincent Lecavalier on a penalty shot early in the 3rd, but the Pens still didn't show too many signs of life. A couple minutes later Steve Downie found a Mattias Ohlund rebound coming his way and he put it back for a 3-1 lead that would hold the rest of the wya.
Tampa in general has been good lately with a mark of 5-1-1 now in their last seven. Playing in Florida has always seemed to be trap games for Pittsburgh and it was another one today.
It was Pittsburgh's first afternoon game and, as mentioned earlier, they looked a little drowsy at first. They better snap out of it, as they have at least 14 more games starting before the usual 7:00 hour in the upcoming months. More immediately, today's game opens a frantic stretch of nine games in 15 days, including another matinee tomorrow in Miami.
The Pens slide is now at four games and they're finding difficulty at getting solid performances up and down the roster in a lot of cases.
- One of the lone brightspots was Bill Guerin scoring his seventh goal of the past nine games. At least one winger is contributing.
- And kudos to Chris Kunitz on the Pens scoring play as well -- he drove hard to the net opening up the room necessary for Guerin to finish. Kunitz didn't receive a point as he never touched the puck, but without his drive the goal never happens.
- Kris Letang had 4 shots on goal (several of them non-threatening and soft outside shots) and the rest of the defensive corps went shotless. Sergei Gonchar was out and no one had to step up and be Sergei Gonchar, but a little more would have helped. Tampa's defense had four different blueliners total six shots on net.
- While the Pens started slow, it's hard for one to knock their effort too much, being as they matched Tampa in hits (16 for both clubs) and blocked shots (12 a piece) and the Pens held a slight overall edge in faceoffs won (52-48%). It wasn't like the Lightning skated circles around the Pens and dominated them all game long, they just executed getting bodies to the net and pucks there.
- Evgeni Malkin seemed to be playing at half-speed for times. He had an awkward and unexpected collision with teammate Brooks Orpik early in the game and grimaced a little on the bench. He was able to play on, but didn't seem to be himself today, even if he did play decently on the PP.
- Perhaps it's just my frustration, but Tyler Kennedy (no shots, 1 giveaway) and Matt Cooke (2 shots, 1 giveaway) do a lot of cycling work, but they're being contained to the outside corners and their passes are not effective. Teams are dealing with their work and making it look easy, maybe they need to throw in a changeup here and there.
It's a long season and a few games of a slide won't hurt too bad. But it may be important to note that division leader New Jersey now has four points (and two games in hand) on the Penguins. If Pittsburgh doesn't get out of their rut soon, it's going to be difficult to secure a top 3 seed for the playoffs. There's no danger --yet-- of falling down the Eastern Conference too much (8th place NY Rangers have 43 points to Pittsburgh's 53), but the solid work of a fast start is eroding away.
The Florida Panthers have always been pests, but the Penguins have beaten them by 3-2 scores in all three games of the season. That might be just what the team needs to salvage something out of what's turned into a dreadful road trip.