David Legwand received a late game misconduct and major penalty, Pittsburgh's defensemen put home three own-goals and the Red Wings got out of a Dodge with a last-second marker to down the Penguins by a 5-4 overtime final Thursday in Detroit.
Thursday's game had little of the old Red Wings hate that has carried since the back-to-back Finals matchups of the 2008 and 2009 seasons, but this game had to have been frustrating for both teams nonetheless. Down half a roster and looking more like their AHL affiliate than the team Pittsburgh faced in two straight Cup Finals, Detroit managed to frustrate Pittsburgh through the first frame, as Neal and Jokinen each took bad penalties before righting themselves and contributing assists to each of Malkin's second-period goals.
The Penguins eventually settled down, and it was Legwand who perhaps took the worst call of the contest, butt-ending Malkin in the waning minutes of the third en route to a major penalty and game misconduct.
However, Pittsburgh failed to capitalize on the extended power play and allowed a last-second goal on a 3-on-1 that turned into their third own-goal of the contest.
A rash of penalties (both earned and unearned) and poor defensive play eventually downed the Penguins, who are currently suffering their worst March under Byslma's direction.
However valuable Martin may be offensively, the only measure of his worth on Thursday would have been how many times he avoided putting the puck past his own goaltender.
The two formed another new pairing as Dan Bylsma continues to divide his better-skating defenders (Maatta and Matt Niskanen) with his stay-at-home types (Scuderi and Brooks Orpik) while awaiting the returns of Martin and Letang. Whether due to poor luck or poor positioning, Maatta and Scuderi combined to go minus-5 on the night, in addition to the aforementioned goals they put past Fleury.
In 10 games this month, Pittsburgh has surrendered four or more goals five times.
With Letang still in the midst of a mandated six-week layoff following his stroke episode at the Olympic break, Martin stood as the team's top defender. He has yet to play a game this month and is due to return right around the beginning of the postseason, barring a setback, after having suffered a hand injury during the Olympics.
Pittsburgh's uneven month has seen them fall four points behind the Boston Bruins in the Eastern Conference with 14 games left until the postseason.
The Penguins have to look beyond Boston. Contrary to seasons past, Pittsburgh is stumbling down the stretch run. Where success and complacency have seemingly burned the Penguins as they entered the postseason the last few years, there's a school of thought that says a little late adversity would be good for a group that too often looks pleased with itself.
There's little to be pleased about given the team's performance since the Olympic break. Adversity is good, but only so long as its validated by a turnaround.
A turnaround that can begin any time, now.