Penguins Look for Answers as Slump Continues

The Pittsburgh Penguins’ woes continued on Saturday as they lost to the Florida Panthers 6-1 and fell to 9th place overall in the Eastern Conference.  The loss was the fourth straight for the Penguins, and their fifth consecutive loss at home.   In just one month, Pittsburgh has plummeted from fourth to ninth place in the Eastern Conference standings and would be out of the playoff picture if the season ended today.  Although the team has shown significant signs of improvement and life in the last 4-games, the results have just not been there.  All of this despite “motivating” public statements by the coach and post-game team meetings by the players.  Chalk it up to a lack of chemistry, lack of 2nd-tier talent, lack of determination, lack of quality coaching, injuries….whatever you want…it just isn’t working for the Penguins right now and something needs to be shaken up, and not just stirred.  If the Penguins don’t find a way to reverse their fortunes soon, they will find themselves in an unrecoverable position in the competitive Eastern Conference.

During the 1st period, it looked as if the Penguins’ forwards were shot out of a cannon and you got the feeling early that this was a statement that they understood the level at which they needed to play.  Everyone except Marc-Andre Fleury, that is, who gave up 2-goals on the first 4-shots by Florida.  The Panthers 1st-goal came at 10:12 as Ville Peltonen wristed his 5th goal of the season past Marc-Andre Fleury on the stick side.  Keith Ballard and Nick Boynton picked up the assists.  Then at 15:20 Nathan Horton wristed another shot past Fleury to make it 2-0.  David Booth and goaltender Craig Anderson got the assists on Horton’s 9th goal of the season.  Pittsburgh ultimately outshot the Panthers 10-5 in the period, but they just couldn’t get the puck past goalie Craig Anderson.  They failed to convert on a lone powerplay 30-seconds into the period, but did manage to kill off two penalties of their own to Gill (interference) and Dupuis (hooking).

In the 2nd period, Coach Therrien sat Marc-Andre Fleury in favor of Dany Sabourin.  The Penguins again came out on fire and you just got the sense that once they found a way to score a goal, the floodgates might open.  That goal came at 1:37 as Ruslan Fedotenko stole the puck deep in the Panthers zone and quickly released it to beat Anderson from a bad angle.  However, despite the apparent momentum gained by the goal, the floodgates never opened.  Instead, the tides turned back on the Penguins after Miroslav Satan took an ill-advised offensive zone roughing call at 7:42.  Just 21-seconds into the powerplay, Bryan McCabe wristed the first Panthers’ shot of the period past Sabourin to make it 3-1.  Cory Stillman and Stephen Weiss were credited with the assists.  Then at 9:29, Evgeni Malkin was called for interference in the offensive zone and the Panthers’ powerplay converted again at 11:24.  This time it was Richard Zednik who got behind Hal Gill and beat Sabourin.  Bryan McCabe and Nick Boynton assisted on the play.  At 11:47, Sidney Crosby and Gregory Campbell got matching minors after exchanging words in the faceoff circle and other pleasantries in the ensuing play.  After the penalties expired, Max Talbot found himself in the faceoff circle with Gregory Campbell and decided to take him to task.  The two whirled around on the ice for a lengthy bout that was largely a draw with maybe a slight advantage to Talbot.  Then, in the ensuing faceoff, Sidney Crosby jumped Brett McLean as the puck was being dropped, pulled his jersey up over his head and drove him face-first into the ice.  While I was happy to see Crosby vent some frustration, I was not happy with the way he went about it.  You don’t jump a guy and then pile drive his jersey covered head into the ice and still expect to get respected by other players in the league.  The officials weren’t too happy with it either as they assessed Crosby 19-minutes in penalties (5-min fighting, 2-min instigator, 2-min unsportsmanlike, and 10-min misconduct).  Then at 18:31, Nathan Horton picked up his 2nd of the night to make it 5-1.  Keith Ballard and Karlis Skrastins got the assists.  The Penguins were outshot 12-11 in the period and were 0-for-1 on the powerplay and gave up two goals on the PK. 

In the 3rd period, Marc-Andre Fleury found his way back into the net for the Penguins as the frustration continued.  At 4:14, Michael Frolik wristed the Panthers’ 6th goal of the game past Fleury.  Cory Stillman and Stephen Weiss picked up the assists on the final goal of the game.  The Penguins outshot the Panthers 9-7 in the final frame, but failed to convert again on the powerplay, extending their man-advantage drought to O-for-24 over the last 6-games.  This is the longest powerplay drought in 5-years. 

The Penguins managed to get Tyler Kennedy back into the lineup for his first game in a month since going out with a sprained knee, and they sat Mark Eaton.  The Penguins have will have Sunday to recoup and reassess before matching up against the New York Rangers on the road on Monday, and then hosting the Atlanta Thrashers on Tuesday.  It is quite clear, however, that there is no quick fix to whatever is ailing the team psyche right now.  The first step is to get a win, and then build from there.

Crosby vs McLean

Talbot vs Cambpell

And For Some Much Needed Comic Relief….

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