On Monday night against the Panthers, the Pens looked like exactly what they were – a team that had played just one game over the past eight days.
Long breaks like that are more advantageous than not for so many reasons and the pros far outweigh any cons, but the one glaring negative is the rust. Despite two productive days of practice over the weekend, the Pens just couldn’t seem to get their legs back and it resulted in a 5-1 loss at CONSOL Energy Center – halting their franchise-record home win streak at 13 games.
Defenseman Matt Niskanen ensured the Pens wouldn’t be shut out, scoring his seventh goal of the season in the third period on a slap shot from the point. Niskanen now has points in four straight and 12 of his last 14 games (6G-7A-13P), an impressive stretch of offense for the blueliner.
Right from the start, the Pens just didn’t execute well and couldn’t get any flow going or plays developing. They weren't crisp, their timing was off, they looked slow and sluggish and they lost battles – plus they ran into excellent goaltending from Panthers netminder Scott Clemmensen. But they refused to make excuses for their performance, saying it was just an all-around unacceptable poor effort.
"Some time in the first I think you just got the sense that it wasn't going to be one of those games where we're flying on all cylinders," Niskanen said. "I think when you recognize that as a group, you just have to play it really simple and play really hard. Even if you oversimplify it, at least you're making hard plays with the puck. You have to check, you have to do those things to kind of work yourself out of it because it's not going the right way. We didn't do that, we didn't have much of a push at all today.
"I think tonight throughout our group, we were just awful. Bad execution, bad work ethic, we just weren't hungry enough to win a loose puck in a battle."
While the Penguins certainly aren't pleased with the way they played tonight and with the trend their defensive efforts have taken the last few games, all they can do now, said Niskanen, is look ahead to Wednesday's game against the Canadiens as an opportunity to start rectifying bad habits.
"It is uncharacteristic for our team to lay an egg like that," he said. "We'll have some bad nights where we make mistakes or our decision making is off, things like that. Since I've been here the compete and the work ethic has always been ahead of premium. It's just there, we never even have to talk about it. I think we have to recognize that it was awful tonight and get ready for a hard-nosed game on Wednesday."
Drew Shore scored twice and Dmitry Kulikov, Jonathan Huberdeau and Shawn Matthias also recorded goals for the Panthers. Scott Clemmensen made 33 saves for Florida while Marc-Andre Fleury made 23 for the Pens.
Not only were the Pens coming off a long break, but they also had guys working their way back from even longer breaks.
Defenseman Paul Martin and forwards James Neal, Jayson Megna and Chuck Kobasew all returned from various injuries on Monday night after returning to practice with the team on Saturday.
Martin had been out the longest, missing 23 games over an eight-week span with a broken tibia sustained in a game on Nov. 25 at Boston. Despite his lengthy absence, Martin slotted right back in on the top shutdown pairing with usual D partner Brooks Orpik and skated on the second power-play unit – logging just over 20 minutes of ice time.
Kobasew returned after missing the last six games with a lower-body injury and was given an opportunity on right wing of the first line with Chris Kunitz and Sidney Crosby. Megna, who missed 13 games with a lower-body injury, was penciled in on the fourth line with Craig Adams and Zach Sill while Neal, who had missed just one game with an upper-body injury, was of course reunited with Evgeni Malkin and Jussi Jokinen and had a team-leading six shots.
HOME STREAK ENDS
The Pens saw their franchise-record home win streak – set last Wednesday, Jan. 15 with a 4-3 defeat of the Washington Capitals – halted at 13 games on Monday evening. They set the previous record of 12 straight home wins between Feb. 22-March 30, 2013.
Here are a few of the numbers set during this impressive stretch (courtesy of the Penguins communications department)…
Including a five-minute overtime period on Nov. 27 against Toronto, the Penguins skated a total of 785 minutes during their home winning streak. During that span they either played with a lead or were tied for almost 88 percent of that time:
Minutes with a lead: 491:21
Minutes tied: 198:40
Minutes trailing: 94:59
*Overall, the Penguins outscored foes, 53-30, in regulation during their streak.
*The Penguins scored the opening goal in 10 of the 13 games.
*Pittsburgh scored three or more regulation goals in 12 of the 13 games. The lone exception was a 2-1 win against Columbus on Dec. 9.
*Special teams played a huge role for the Penguins. The team was 10-for-37 (27 percent) on the power play and 37-for-39 (94.9 percent) on the penalty kill.
Individually, Sidney Crosby saw his 17-game home scoring streak end Monday night. He collected 26 points (8G-18A) over the stretch, which was the second-longest home point streak of his career behind the 19-game run he had from Oct. 9-Dec. 28, 2010 (19G-18A-37PTS).
Author: Michelle Crechiolo