"I don't think we played a very good game today as a team, and that's a very disappointing way to lose a match," Penguins coach Dan Bylsma said.
That about sums it up. The Pittsburgh Penguins hadn't played since Monday night, and even though that's not a good excuse for a team of professionals, it certainly showed today. After winning the first three games of the season series against the Montreal Canadiens, the Pens didn't show as much jump as their opponent, had to play catch-up all night long, and never were able to recover.
The first minute of the game was about as crazy as you'll ever see: The Habs struck first 29 seconds into the game when Mathieu Darche bumped into Marc-Andre Fleury behind the net. The refs didn't stop play and the puck made it's way to Tomas Plekanec and he made no mistakes throwing it into the empty net. Justice would strike soon as 1:02 into the game, Jordan Staal took advantage when Ryan O'Byrne tripped over the blueline somehow and drove on Jaroslav Halak. Halak stopped the initial shot but the puck caromed off Pascal Dupuis and into the net.
After Halak made a great stop on Matt Cooke, Roman Hamrlik quickly transistioned the puck up through the zone to Brian Gionta. The diminutive forward out-raced Mark Eaton and all the other Pens and scored a great backhand goal over the sprawling Fleury for the 2-1 lead. The next shift Brooks Orpik took a penalty and Scott Gomez collected Plekanec's trash for a 3-1 edge. Sidney Crosby and Bill Guerin would connect for Guerin's 17th of the year to bring Pittsburgh to a one goal deficit before the second intermission, but that's as close as they'd get.
In the third Darche ripped a slapper from behind the top of the circles that appeared to tip off of Sergei Gonchar's stick. That would be the end of the game for Fleury, who got the hook from Dan Bylsma. Gionta would strike again to erase all doubts in the game after backup Brent Johnson and Kris Letang mis-played the puck behind the net. Evgeni Malkin would receive a nice pass from Jay McKee to score his 2nd short-handed goal of the season on a breakaway, but it was too little too late for Pittsburgh, who'd drop the game by the 5-3 score.
- The Pesn were outshot 32-21 and outshot-attempted 71-52. They didn't play with much urgency throughout the game and it showed.
- The best Penguin of the game was arguably Pascal Dupuis. 1 goal (3 shots on net), +1, 1 blocked shot and 1 takeaway reads his boxscore. That doesn't show the jump he had in his step or the level of play he brought to his normal line with Malkin and Jordan Staal. Dups was one of the few players in white that showed up.
- Plekanec and Gionta stole the show, both were the most dangerous players on the ice and did well to not only convert their chances, but also move their legs to create the chances. It was that type of energy that Pittsburgh seemed lacking.
- Marc-Andre Fleury got pulled and had a rough outing, how much do you hang on him, how much burden do you put on the team in front of him? Neither one were there when it counted, I'm inclined to give the Stanley Cup winning goalie (who hadn't faced game shots in 4 days) a pass on this one. It's hard to imagine any goalie stealing this game, especially after Montreal bumped, pressured and got in his space.
- Speaking of which, the defense didn't do much to get the hard-crashing Canadiens out of Fleury's way. And after the fact that they crowded him, they didn't seem to "police the crease" with much intensity, as a coach may say. That's a little disappointing, considering the top 6 defensemen are healthy. Don't think that Ray Shero didn't notice the lack of the physical performance.
- To add on that: the Pens only were credited with 19 hits and only two defensemen (Orpik and Gonchar) showed up on the scoresheet. And those two guys play together. A team doesn't always have to be uber-physical to succeed, but it's unacceptable when the 2nd and 3rd defense pair can't even throw their weight around, especially when your opponent is gamely crashing the net.
- Kudos to Bill Guerin to stand up for Malkin when Geno took a high hit from Ryan White. The boys are still sticking together, and any Penguin will fight for any of his brothers when necessary, as has been the case for a while now. The heart isn't the problem, as much as the focused effort was tonight.
- Again, taking the broad scope of things, Pittsburgh took 6 out of a possible 8 points from Montreal in this season's series between the two. Do that to every team, and you're in damn good shape. Small consolation at this point, but keeping it in a better perspective, it doesn't seem so bad.
Tough game after a long layoff in this compressed schedule, and now things get dicey. The Penguins are scheduled to play in Washington tomorrow afternoon. Making it tougher than the Caps riding a 13 game winning streak is the travel plans. The Pens are planning to fly from Montreal to Newark, New Jersey (who got some snow themselves) and bussing down to the nation's capital. There's anywhere from 12 to 30 inches on the way -- trust me, I know-- so it's going to be a difficult trip.
It's no excuse for professionals that have first class accommodations, and no excuse will be offered here or from the team if they don't play well tomorrow. As kids you routinely drive hours on end to games and then maybe play 4 or 5 games in two days. No big deal, even if the conditions aren't ideal and the routines won't be normal, there's no excuse. Time to line up and do what you do: play hockey. Hopefully a little better than they did today.