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Atlantic: Penguins looking for a stretch of consistency

by Chuck Gormley /

Pittsburgh forward Jordan Staal has struggled to start the season, scoring only one goal in the Pens' first ten games.

Will the real Pittsburgh Penguins please stand up?

Blessed with some of the best young offensive talent in the East, the Pens were expected to pick up this season where they left off last April, immediately challenging for the Atlantic Division lead.

Through the first month of the season, however, the Penguins have been as predictable as the weather. After two weeks of lose-one, win-one hockey, the Penguins appeared to figure things out by winning three straight one-goal games. But then they reverted back to inconsistency in back-to-back losses to the Maple Leafs and Canadiens.

Penguins coach Michel Therrien was perplexed with a team that was coming off those three consecutive one-goal victories.

"I was really surprised," he said after watching his team sleepwalk through a 5-2 home loss to Toronto. "We didn't compete. We didn't execute."

Sidney Crosby, who is tied with Evgeni Malkin for the team lead in scoring with 13 points in 10 games, accused his teammates of playing too soft.

"We need to get a few more dirty goals," Crosby said. "If you look at the goals we do score, a lot of times they are right around the net. That is no fluke. You have to score like that."

Last season, the Pens led the Atlantic and were third in the Eastern Conference with 277 goals. Entering this week, they were eighth in the conference with 30 goals in 10 games.

Sophomore Jordan Staal, who notched 29 goals last season, had just one goal through 10 games, matching the goal totals of veterans Mark Recchi and Gary Roberts.

The Penguins had gotten just five goals from their defensemen, three by Ryan Whitney and two by Sergei Gonchar.

"We understand that defense comes first, and that is why we are not jumping up as much," Gonchar said. "Every mistake you make the other team is going to capitalize on it. We have such a great offense. The goals are going to come. I have confidence in our forwards. They are going to score without our help."

In an attempt to get things going, Therrien moved Petr Sykora off the top line and replaced him with Malkin. Sykora moved onto a unit with Roberts and center Maxime Talbot. Recchi, who has not scored since Oct. 5, remained on a line with Crosby.

"It is just one of those things right now," Recchi said of the three-goal average per game. "We are pressing a little bit. It is frustrating when you are fighting the puck all night."

The Penguins still are dangerous on the power play, scoring at least one goal on the man-advantage in every game this season. It's at even strength where they're struggling. In Saturday night's 4-3 shootout loss to the Canadiens, the Pens connected twice on the power play and erased an early 3-0 deficit. But their lack of confidence showed in the shootout when Erik Christenson, Sykora, Jarko Ruutu, Whitney and Recchi all missed the net while Gonchar had his attempt poke-checked away and Crosby and Malkin were denied by Carey Price.

There also has been some early troubles in goal, where Marc-Andre Fleury (4-4, 3.50 GAA) has been outplayed by backup Dany Sabourin (1-0-1, 2.08).

And the Penguins' upcoming schedule does not allow much room for a setback. After playing seven of their first 10 at Mellon Arena, the Pens play six of their next seven on the road, including four straight against the Wild, Avalanche, Islanders and Devils.

Around the Atlantic -- Through the first eight games newcomers Mike Comrie and Bill Guerin were tied for the Islanders team lead with 10 points apiece. ... Former Islander Brent Sutter, now the first-year coach of the Devils,

coached his first career game at Nassau Coliseum last week and was defeated 4-3. ... On Saturday the Isles faced former coach Peter Laviolette and the Carolina Hurricanes and on Nov. 3, legendary Islanders coach Al Arbour will return to the bench for one night to coach his 1,500th career game with the organization. ... Rangers forward Brendan Shanahan leads the NHL with 58 shots, but has just one goal to show for it. Shanahan took 13 shots without a goal in an Oct. 13 game against Ottawa. ... The Rangers are banged up these days, with right wing Ryan Callahan (knee sprain) joining left wings Martin Straka (broken finger) and Sean Avery (separated shoulder) on the injured list. ... Devils coach Brent Sutter issued a challenge to forwards Patrik Elias and Brian Gionta last week, saying, "Your best players have to be your best players and the other day on (Long Island) that wasn't the case." ... Free agent pickup Dainius Zubrus still was looking for his first goal as a Devil.

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