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Atlantic: Pens move back to basics to break slump

by Phil Coffey
When the Atlanta Thrashers come calling on the Pittsburgh Penguins on Tuesday, they will discover a Pens team unlike any we've seen in the past 11 months -- one in a slump.
The Penguins have lost five-straight and six of their last seven. The last time we saw the Penguins struggling so mightily was midway through last season when Pittsburgh righted the ship when Dan Bylsma took over behind the bench for Michel Therrien.
At 26-16-1 and fourth in the Eastern Conference seedings today, the Pens' situation is nowhere near as dire as it was last Feb. 15, 2009 when Bylsma took over, but the Penguins are not pleased with what's happening.

"Our game has to be better," Sidney Crosby told Sam Kasan of the team's Web site. "There are no excuses. There are no common problems. We're not executing and we're paying the price for it.

"This happens in the season sometimes. You've got to figure out why and correct it quickly. We just have to make sure we turn it around and don't make it a habit. We know what we have to do. It's a matter of doing it for a whole game."

Whether it be individual players slumping or units like the power play, the Pens realize that the solution to their problems is self-contained.
"The guys in that (locker) room, the coaching staff, we are the guys who are going to get out of it," Bylsma said. "We have a clear understanding of what that's going to look like. Right now, it has to be us together. You have to focus on doing that over and over again, to play a certain way, executing a certain way. That becomes who you are regardless of what the score is. It's a perspective we have to understand.

"We have to make sure we're focused on doing that and understand the urgency with which we have to get back to our game and bring to the rink starting (today)."

Bill Guerin, now in his 17th season, has been through slumps before and said his teammates need to forget everything except a return to the basics of the game.

"Stretches like this are frustrating," Guerin told Kasan. "The more you press, the more you try to do, the worse you're going to make it. You have to realize teams go through this every year. They go through it all the time. We had a stretch like this earlier with all the injuries.

"You just have to take a step back, get back to basics and playing our game. That's it. If we try to change our game or the way we play, we're just going to hurt ourselves. We just have to get back to basics.

"We don't want to play like this," Guerin said. "There are questions we're asking ourselves. It's not an easy time but we're still in a good spot. We still have a good team. We'll get through it."

Illness fells Yeo -- Penguins assistant coach Mike Yeo missed Sunday's game in Florida after becoming ill after Saturday's loss in Tampa Bay. He remained in a Florida hospital Sunday.

"He wasn't feeling well during the game," coach Dan Bylsma said. "We had him checked out by doctors. The tests were fine after the game. Again this morning, he was not feeling well after waking up and doing some work. We sent him to the hospital for preliminary tests. Those results are normal.

"He wanted to coach in the game, but we thought it was important he continue to be monitored by doctors. We expect him to be released (Monday) morning from the hospital here and have him return to Pittsburgh then."

Sort of a happy homecoming -- New Jersey coach Jacques Lemaire was appreciative of the ovation the fans in Minnesota bestowed on Lemaire and assistant coach Mario Tremblay on Saturday night as he returned to the Wild, his former team. He also liked the way Martin Brodeur played in the 5-3 New Jersey victory.
As for the rest of it ...

"Was that terrible!" Lemaire said after the game. "Just a bad game. No puck control. No good thinking. We turned the puck over many times. Many times, many times and many times."

That's a lot of times for those scoring at home.

"We were lucky Marty was good," Lemaire said. "When you need a win, you need a good goalie if you don't play well. Somebody has to do something. Usually, it's the goalie."

As for the tribute, the Wild posted a "Thank you Jacques and Mario from the State of Hockey" sign on the scoreboard after the starting lineups were announced, which prompted the nice ovation from the sellout crowd. Lemaire waved to the crowd.

"I didn't see it," Lemaire told Tom Gulitti of the Bergen Record of the scoreboard sign. "But I could hear the fans. I thought it was neat, it was clean, it was nice. That I enjoyed."

Much more than the game.

One step up, one step back -- The Rangers continue to look for some consistently good play rather than consistently inconsistent play.

For instance, a 2-1 road win in Carolina was followed by a 2-1 overtime loss to the Hurricanes at home. The Rangers got three of the four points, certainly important, but getting the win outright is important, too.

"It's a fast game and the difference between winning and losing is so small," goalie Henrik Lundqvist said. "Today, we could have killed this game but we didn't. It's definitely frustrating not to win this hockey game."

Coach John Tortorella was equally frustrated.

"I thought we generated offense," Tortorella said. "I thought some of our best chances we shot wide, let alone the four or five posts we hit. We have to start to ... we can't be satisfied with generating scoring chances. We have to start scoring goals. We defend again. We held them to single digits chances against. It is something we have worked on. We generate some offense, but we simply don't score. You try to stay patient but the bottom line is that we have to start scoring in these types of games. We lose a point because we simply don't bury a couple of our chances.  It shouldn't be going into overtime."

Kudos for Drury -- It wasn't long ago that Chris Drury was demoted to the Rangers' fourth line, but his struggles earlier this season never put his chances of making the United States Olympic team in jeopardy according to Team USA General Manager Brian Burke.

"We chose Chris Drury because he is Chris Drury," Burke said. "That's all you need to know about him.

"He's as good as another coach in the dressing room as far as what he provides. He was one of the first players we reached out to when we put this team together, so he's been involved from the get-go." -- Team USA GM Brian Burke on selecting Chris Drury

"We know what he can do," Burke said. "He's as good as another coach in the dressing room as far as what he provides. He was one of the first players we reached out to when we put this team together, so he's been involved from the get-go."

DiPietro goes fourth --
Rick DiPietro took another step in his rehab journey to the NHL Sunday afternoon, playing for the AHL's Bridgeport Sound Tigers in a 4-3 loss to the Worcester Sharks.

DiPietro, who has yet to play in the NHL this season after playing in only five games last season, appeared in his fourth game for Bridgeport overall and his second in three days. He stopped 35 of 39 shots.

Isles go on offensive -- Rick DiPietro might have been glad to miss the Isles' last game as the 6-5 shootout win was definitely not kind to the goalies.

Saturday's game had it all -- lots of goals, lead changes galore, a shootout, and goalies popping antacids by the roll.

"It shows a lot about our character," Islanders forward Josh Bailey said. "We managed to bounce back and find a way to win. It's tough to keep that pressure and keep going but we were able to get the two points."

Matt Moulson and Jon Sim scored 2:51 apart in the opening period, and Richard Park, Trent Hunter and Bailey added goals to help the Islanders earn points for the fifth time in six games.

Moulson's opening rebound goal tied him with Tavares for the team-lead with 16 and ended a nine-game goal drought. Moulson finished at plus-3, but said New York needs to sustain defense pressure after establishing leads.

"We just have to tighten it up and play smarter in our own zone," he said.
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