Sometimes, it's not how you lose, it's if you lose. But sometimes just losing is enough to feel bad. It'll be tough for the Pittsburgh Penguins to put a bow on this one, they lost tonight at home 6-3 to the Washington Capitals, a team that played the night before. Their defense was inadequate, goaltending wasn't there and no forward other than Sidney Crosby scored a goal.
It's bad news all-around: Marc-Andre Fleury got the hook after 26:42; it's clear the Pens will go as far as he takes them, but where is that at this point? The first goal was scored when Alex Goligoski either, at best fell, or at worst, got his ankles broken by Alex Semin. Semin easily skated in unobstructed and picked a corner for the games opening goal. The second goal allowed was weak, Mike Knuble took a slapper from right near the wall. It's the type of shot a goalie has to stop (and control) 10 times out of 10. Fleury failed to and it slipped under him. Fleury's last red-lighter was when Tomas Fleischmann got a fortunate bounce of off Max Talbot's skate and he buried it.
Even though Crosby had scored in the interim to make the game 3-1 at that point, the Pens were floundering. Brent Johnson entered the game (made a nice save on Alex Ovechkin for his first feel of the rubber) and then Jordan Leopold scored later to bring Pittsburgh back to 3-2. Matt Bradley would tip in a Quintin Laing shot before the end of the 2nd to make it 4-2 Caps. Terrible effort by the "shutdown" unit of Brooks Orpik and Kris Letang to allow body positioing, fail to tie up sticks and let the Caps 4th line score, but what can you do.
Less than a minute into the 3rd, Leopold struck again for Pittsburgh when he took a nice pass from Pascal Dupuis and buried a slapper by Simeon Varlamov. A couple minutes later, Alex Ovechkin got a fortunate bounce off a ref's skate when Jordan Staal won a faceoff and AO buried it by Johnson. To rub salt in the wounds, Ovechkin would tie Crosby in the race for the Maurice Richard Trophy by scoring an empty netter with 0.2 seconds left in the game.
If that doesn't leave a bad taste in one's mouth, nothing will. However, in the large scheme of things it doesn't mean too much except a chance not to "hold serve" and follow wins by the Buffalo Sabres and New Jersey Devils who both picked up W's in their games.
- Evgeni Malkin was a late scratch, he was sick and couldn't go, and his absence was felt. The Caps played without important players too (like Mike Green, Brendan Morrison, John Carlson) but the Pens had to alter their lineup to have 11 forwards and 7 defensemen. They never seemed in sync or could recover. You never know this time of year if being "sick" is being ill or an actual injury (like the sore/swollen foot that's kept Malkin off the ice for most of the last 3 weeks) but hopefully this is the former.
- Without Malkin, Crosby had to carry a heavy load. Sid played a game high 27:01 and took almost 53% of the faceoffs for Pittsburgh (winning 57% of them). He showed jump and played with almost every forward in the lineup.
- Sergei Gonchar only played 14:36 on the night, and only 9:36 at even strength. That's much, much below his averages. Is the Sarge hurting too or is that a result of dressing 7D? And if it's the latter, why's the most experienced and thought of best defensemen seeing his minutes cut when three other defensemen played 20+ minutes. That's a real question right now for this team.
- The Pens got a couple of bad bounces -- on the Fleischmann goal, on Ovechkin's first, on an apparent goal for that whistled dead because the ref lost track of it. But a team makes their own fortunes and you can't really say the Pens made too many for themselves on this night.
- Caps defensemen Jeff Schultz was a +5 (meaning he was on ice for all the goals Washington scored, and none against) which tells two things: 1) he played very well and 2) he didn't match up that much against Crosby (3 points). The Caps tend to not worry about matchups, and with nothing to play for there's no reason for them to do so. In the broader scheme of things how Crosby -- or Malkin -- fares when Schultz is out there at even strength if these teams meet again (as most expect they will) might go a long way to determining the outcome.
As stated, there's nothing but a bad taste in fans and player's mouths alike right now. Pittsburgh is behind the 8-ball for getting a #2 or #3 seed, owing a lot to how Buffalo and NJ faes down their stretch run. But that's out of anyone's concern now. The big question, with about a week until the playoffs is about bouncing back. The Pens have had an inconsistent regular season defending their Stanley Cup, but they haven't had anything to prove.
That's about to change, and real soon. Hey, it's all in the game, yo.