Playing for the first time in five days, the Pittsburgh Penguins looked rusty and a step slow and never could quite get it in gear, losing 5-1 to the Florida Panthers and ending a 14-game winning streak within the friendly confines of Consol Energy Center.
It was a disappointing and disjointed night all around. The Pens started off the game well enough, carrying play and earning a power play in the first period. But then Evgeni Malkin took a shot from the right side that missed the left post and rimmed around the boards, right to Drew Shore. Shore was off on a two-on-one. Kris Letang couldn't do much except take away the passing lane, so Shore just shot the puck over the shoulder of Marc-Andre Fleury. At that point, one kind of got the feeling it wasn't going to be the Pens night.
Shore would score again in the second to make it 2-0 after two periods before defenseman Dmitry Kulikov went down low and scored from down low to make it 3-0. The Pens would attempt a comeback when Matt Niskanen fired a goal at four-on-four play, but couldn't pick up any more momentum. Jonathan Huberdeau scored a goal he ended up in the net with, alongside the puck, and then after a lengthy review, it only took Shawn Matthias 12 seconds to get a little puck-luck getting a shot to click off Niskanen's stick and past Fleury to complete the scoring.
Every team's bound to have a stinker in a long season, and the Pens definitely put one out there tonight. A few more thoughts on the game:
- Rough sequence for Tanner Glass in the second period, going to the box with Ed Jovanovski for matching roughing minors, getting out of the box...Only to go right back in for a high-sticking call seconds later.
- Tough night for Sidney Crosby too: a -3 on the night, took two minor penalties, only had 1 shot on goal and got dominated in the faceoff circle by Marcel Goc (lost 6 of 7 to zee German). Crosby's absurd 22 game home point-scoring streak is a thing of the past, which now means it's time for another home-scoring streak to probably begin pretty soon. Still, one of the few duds that Crosby will ever have, so we'll note it.
- Of course, having Chuck Kobasew start the game as Crosby's right winger probably didn't help. Replacing Pascal Dupuis still looms very large for Ray Shero and the Pens.
- Great game for impending free-agent-to-be Jesse Winchester, putting up a season high 3 assists and a +3 to go along with 2 shots on goal and a hit. Not a bad 13:39 of work for him. Not that Jesse Winchester would be a Dupuis replacement or anything.
- Six shots on goal for Malkin. Six more from James Neal. Credit Florida goalie Scott Clemmensen for being sharp, especially early in the game, to keep the Pens off the board.
- The Panthers scored four even strength goals, with each of the Pens d-pairs getting at least one goal against on them (and the Matt Niskanen - Olli Maatta pair had two). Tough night for them, Paul Martin looked a little slow and a step behind, much like a player coming back from missing 23 games off a broken leg naturally would.
- This type of game makes you wonder "what could be" for the Panthers. Shore, 22 years old, scored two goals. Huberdeau (last year's rookie of the year) scored a goal and got an assist. Kulikov, 23, played a game high 26:41 and was probably the best skater for either team tonight. And they had seven total players 24 years or younger in the lineup. It's only one game, but it shows there's a foundation of talent that some of the other bottom dwellers we've recently seen (EDM, CGY) just don't have at the NHL level right now.
- Stop the presses- Dan Bylsma actually made Deryk Engelland a healthy scratch. On Dan Bylsma bobblehead day no less.
- The Panthers, despite their place in the standings, always seem to give the Penguins problems. So it was surprising for me to learn this is Florida's first win in Pittsburgh since November 2009, and their first win in Consol Energy Center, period. Puts into perspective how the Pens have gotten the wins against the Cats in their own barn, even if it doesn't feel like a team that they've usually beaten recently, at least to me.
And, well, that is that. The Pens weren't great and played too much from behind. Hopefully they've knocked all the rust out and will be ready for a better effort on Wednesday when old friend Michel Therrien and the Habs come to town.