NEW YORK -- Panic is a strong word in sports, far too strong to describe the emotional state of the Pittsburgh Penguins right now.
Alarmed works. Startled, anxious and worried all fit as well.
Though one forgettable, streak-busting blowout loss was almost expected after a perfect March, a second straight no-show 24 hours later at Madison Square Garden means it is look-in-the-mirror time for the Penguins.
"Everybody is telling us we're good and we're going to win, maybe it got to our head a little bit," Penguins wing Pascal Dupuis said following the 6-1 loss to the New York Rangers on Wednesday at the Garden.
The Penguins have been outscored 10-2 by the Sabres and Rangers this week. They gave up nine goals in the 11 games before that.
The Sabres and Rangers played arguably their best games of the season this week against the Penguins, but it doesn't change the fact Pittsburgh provided little resistance playing without Hart Trophy favorite Sidney Crosby (broken jaw), Norris Trophy candidate Kris Letang (broken toe) and rejuvenated defenseman Paul Martin (broken hand).
They still have a big lead in the Atlantic Division and remain on top of the Eastern Conference, but the Penguins' 15-game winning streak in March seems like a distant memory as they head into a rematch against the Rangers on Friday at Consol Energy Center (7 p.m. ET, NHLN-US).
"Everybody is telling us we're good, we're going to win, we made the best trades and the guys that are coming in are going to help us, but now it's the guys that are in this locker room that have to make the difference to win some hockey games," Dupuis said. "It's not just going to happen. You have to battle for it."
Why did they turn so soft after being so good and playing so hard for 15 straight games?
"I don't know, it's hard to say," Penguins center Brandon Sutter said. "We've been playing so well for a month and then to have two games like we have had, we feel that is unacceptable. You look at the standings and we're still on top, but teams are playing well this time of year and we have to find ways to be better.
"To a man in here, we know that's unacceptable," he continued. "I can't explain why it went that way in the last two games, but whatever it is we've got two days to figure it out."
Dupuis' theory is an interesting one, because in a way he's right. The entire hockey world was mesmerized by the succession of moves made by Penguins general manager Ray Shero last week.
Finally, in the most shocking move of all, Shero acquired forward Jarome Iginla for a couple of prospects and his first-round pick.
"Hand them the Stanley Cup right now," was the buzz across the hockey community, specifically on social media. Shero will get anyone he wants, was the tone of several discussions.
It's all very hard to ignore.
"Certainly you're not immune to the conversations about how the team is doing, the number of wins in a row and adding good players to your team," Penguins coach Dan Bylsma said. "But it's not the first time you hear those things, and I don't think you take the foot off the gas or think you just need to put the jersey on. Hockey is a much different sport than that. Winning hockey games and being a good team really has very little to do with the names you have on the back."
Maybe the Penguins are starting to realize that again as they stare into the mirror now.
Panic isn't in the air, not with the cushion the Penguins gave themselves by being perfect last month, but giving up 10 goals in two games is at least cause for some concern.
"It's going to have to be the guys in this locker room," Dupuis said. "Sid is not going to come back on Friday. [Letang] and Paul Martin are not going to be here. It's the guys that are in here. It has nothing to do with the skill level, it has to do with battle level and wanting it more.
"Obviously we can't seem to find it in the last couple of days, but it'll have to come back or … I don't know. It doesn't look good right now."
Follow Dan Rosen on Twitter at: @drosennhl
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