Sidney Crosby learned the difference between being an elite player and an elite team last postseason when his Pittsburgh Penguins were run out of the Eastern Conference quarterfinals by the Ottawa Senators in five games.
Crosby will try to regroup his slumping team Thanksgiving Day when they face the Senators for the first time since their playoff exit.
The third-year center and Penguins captain made his playoff debut last season and turned in a solid performance with three goals and two assists, scoring the winning goal in Pittsburgh's only victory in Game 2 of the series. But the strength of Ottawa's top line and strong goaltending by Ray Emery triggered an eventual run to the Stanley Cup finals for the Senators, who lost to Anaheim in five games.
This time, both Crosby and the Penguins (8-11-2) are trying to bounce back after a 2-1 loss to the New Jersey Devils on Wednesday. Not only did he have his 19-game points streak end in the defeat, he also took a tripping penalty that led to a power-play goal that created a two-goal deficit in the third period Pittsburgh could not overcome.
"It's frustrating, I'm not going to sit here and say it isn't, but at the same time there's nothing we can do but keep battling, keep going," said Crosby, whose team is 1-5-1 its last seven games. "It's adversity and we've got to make sure we stay on the same page. I wouldn't change a whole lot about our game right now, honestly."
Evgeni Malkin scored the lone goal for Pittsburgh, extending his points streak to 14 games. The Russian left wing has six goals and 15 assists in that span, but was limited to one point in the final three postseason games versus the Senators.
Ottawa (16-4-0) wrapped up a three-game road trip with one victory after a 4-2 loss at Buffalo on Wednesday. The Senators fell behind 3-0 in the first period and never recovered, continuing a pattern of slow starts in their few losses.
"The first period is what sank our ship," said Emery, who was making just his fourth start after offseason wrist surgery. "After that they just played well enough to maintain their lead."
In addition the loss, the Senators may be without right wing Patrick Eaves, whom coach John Paddock said could be sidelined "not short term" due to a shoulder injury. Ottawa played Wednesday without wing Randy Robitaille due to a bruised left hand, and he is questionable for this game.
Martin Gerber likely will be back in net for Ottawa, which has yet to lose consecutive games this season. Gerber has a league-high 13 victories and is 2-0-0 in as many games lifetime versus Pittsburgh despite a 3.01 goals-against average.
Pittsburgh won the final three regular-season games between the teams, including two by shootout. Crosby had a goal and three assists last season, while Senators captain and right wing Daniel Alfredsson had a goal and five assists in the four games.
Alfredsson has 15 goals and 40 points in 43 lifetime games versus Pittsburgh.