Tuesday, December 06, 2011

For one night, the Penguins simply didn't measure up

By Ron Cook, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
December 6, 2011

PITTSBURGH, PA - DECEMBER 5: Goaltender Tim Thomas(notes) #30 of the Boston Bruins makes one of his 39 saves on a shot from James Neal(notes) #18 of the Pittsburgh Penguins in the third period on December 5, 2011 at CONSOL Energy Center in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Boston defeated Pittsburgh 3-1. (Photo by Jamie Sabau/Getty Images)

A measuring-stick game?

Let's hope not.

If the Penguins-Boston Bruins game Monday night were a measuring-stick game, the Penguins are in a lot of trouble. They were beaten, 3-1, in their building and the game didn't feel that close. Clearly, they don't measure up.

I refuse to go there this morning.

But the Penguins?

I'm not so sure.

To say they took this loss hard and personally would be an understatement.

"Obviously, it's one game in December," winger Pascal Dupuis said. "But at the same time, they were much better than us."

Also straying from the it's-just-one-game theme was defenseman Brooks Orpik.

"I don't think anyone in here is happy with their effort," he said. "It's one of the games you have marked on the schedule. It's disappointing that we kind of laid an egg."

This was in the moments immediately after the game, the loss still fresh and painful. It's nice to think, by now, a little common sense has taken over.

The Penguins were due to lose one at Consol Energy Center. This was just their second loss in regulation in 12 home games.

The Bruins came in as the hottest team in the NHL. You also might have heard they won the Stanley Cup last season.

And don't forget this key point:

It's December 6, people!

The Penguins will face the Bruins three more times in the regular season. Quite likely, the teams also will meet in the playoffs. If the Penguins lay an egg then, worry. If they allow the Bruins to "dictate" -- coach Dan Bylsma's word -- the outcome of those games, worry a lot.

If anything, the Penguins should feel fortunate to get out with no more damage than one loss. Sidney Crosby appeared to take a knee to the groin in an ugly collision with teammate Chris Kunitz in the third period but gathered himself and returned to the game. Moments later, Evgeni Malkin took a nasty face shield-to-face check from Daniel Paille but returned with nothing more serious than a bloody upper lip.

Really, a 3-1 defeat isn't all that crushing, all things considered.

The Penguins will tell you they lost the game when they failed to score on two 5-on-3 power plays -- one for 1:10, the other for 2:00 -- in the second period. That didn't help, certainly.

But I'm not sure this game wasn't lost before it started.

For one thing, the Penguins were playing their first game at home after a four-game trip. Hockey people have insisted for years that first game back is a tough assignment. I'm still not sure why, but, hey, who am I to argue?

For another thing, the Penguins played without injured starting defensemen Kris Letang, Zbynek Michalek and Deryk Engelland. Now that created a tough challenge even I can understand. Not to put all the blame for this defeat on the replacements because it takes an entire team to drop an egg, but Alexandre Picard was a minus-one, Robert Bortuzzo was a minus-two and Simon Despres took two penalties.

For a third thing, the Bruins came in on an amazing 13-0-1 roll. They had outscored their opponents, 63-26, in those 14 games. They had won five in a row on the road even more convincingly, outscoring the opposition, 24-6. They had the league's best goaltender, Tim Thomas, who had a 1.93 goals-against average with nine consecutive wins.

"They're good," Orpik conceded. "Nothing flashy, just good. They're very patient. They wait for you to make mistakes and they capitalize on them.

"Tonight, we made a lot of mistakes. You can point to this and that, but it was kind of right from the start. We weren't ready to play. It's a good lesson for us, I guess."

The Penguins don't have to wait long for a chance to feel a lot better about themselves. They play in Philadelphia Thursday night against the Flyers. The fans there figure to welcome Crosby back to the NHL like only they can. Beating the Flyers would be special.

Isn't it always?

Here's guessing Dupuis realizes that today. But late Monday night, he still was thinking about the Bruins.

"If we do play them in the playoffs," he said, "we had better play a lot better than we did tonight."

We all can agree on that.

Ron Cook: rcook@post-gazette.com. Ron Cook can be heard on the "Vinnie and Cook" show weekdays from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. on 93.7 The Fan. More articles by this author

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