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Penguins squander early lead, lose 4-2 to Ducks | TribLIVE.com
Penguins/NHL

Penguins squander early lead, lose 4-2 to Ducks

Jerry DiPaola
| Monday, December 17, 2018 9:36 p.m
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Pittsburgh Penguins' Tanner Pearson (14) chases after the puck as Anaheim Ducks' Adam Henrique, center, defends during the second period of an NHL hockey game, Monday, Dec. 17, 2018, in Pittsburgh. (AP Photo/Keith Srakocic)
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Anaheim Ducks goaltender John Gibson (36) stops a shot by Pittsburgh Penguins' Zach Aston-Reese (46) during the second period of an NHL hockey game, Monday, Dec. 17, 2018, in Pittsburgh. (AP Photo/Keith Srakocic)
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Pittsburgh Penguins goaltender Casey DeSmith, left, makes a save on Anaheim Ducks' Andrew Cogliano (7) during the first period of an NHL hockey game, Monday, Dec. 17, 2018, in Pittsburgh. (AP Photo/Keith Srakocic)
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Pittsburgh Penguins goaltender Casey DeSmith, left, makes a save on Anaheim Ducks' Andrew Cogliano (7) during the first period of an NHL hockey game, Monday, Dec. 17, 2018, in Pittsburgh. (AP Photo/Keith Srakocic)
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Anaheim Ducks goaltender John Gibson (36) looks up after Pittsburgh Penguins' Bryan Rust (17) scored during the first period of an NHL hockey game, Monday, Dec. 17, 2018, in Pittsburgh. Rust skates away with Jake Guentzel. (AP Photo/Keith Srakocic)

After the Penguins’ 4-2 loss to the Anaheim Ducks on Monday night, Evgeni Malkin spoke candidly about how the team reacts to prosperity.

“We lead by a couple goals and play, like, casually,” said Malkin, who scored the first of two Penguins goals to give the team a 2-0 lead after the first period at PPG Paints Arena.

Moments later, coach Mike Sullivan was just as direct.

“There needs to be a level of accountability,” he said, “and, ultimately, that falls on me. Our team, of all teams, I think we learn the hard way.”

The Penguins (15-12-6) lost an opportunity to assemble their first three-game winning streak in nearly two months when they had no answer for what the Ducks threw at them in the second period.

Anaheim (19-11-5) seized control in that period by putting 19 shots on goal and scoring three times against goalie Casey DeSmith.

“I thought we played 40 minutes,” Sullivan said. “We didn’t play 60. That second period, we didn’t play as well as we’re capable.”

Consecutive hooking and tripping penalties by Zach Aston-Reeses and Sidney Crosby within the first 3 minutes, 2 seconds robbed the Penguins of the momentum they created with early goals by Malkin and Bryan Rust.

By the 5:33 mark, Adam Henrique and Kiefer Sherwood had tied the score, assisted respectively by former Penguins Daniel Sprong and Carter Rowney. The Penguins never recovered.

“We have to have a little more push-back in those situations,” Sullivan said.

The Ducks broke the tie with 1:13 left in the period when Ryan Getzlaf won a faceoff to the right of net and sent a shot toward DeSmith that he failed to control. Ondrej Kase poked home the loose puck, and the Ducks had what turned out to be a safe 3-2 lead.

“It was pretty tough to see,” DeSmith said of the puck. “It came through a couple bodies there, a couple sets of legs. I caught it at the last second.”

That was the winner, but Sullivan acknowledged mistakes at the blue line also hurt the Penguins’ cause.

“It’s an important part of the rink, and it’s something we talk about almost daily,” he said. “It’s not always about trying to score or make a play. Sometimes, it’s about making sure you don’t feed your opponents’ transition game

“We have to be more disciplined in that area, and we have to be willing to put pucks behind them and generate offense different ways.”

Sullivan talked about using punitive measures to make his point. Jake Guentzel had his ice time limited for a spell.

“Sometimes, the biggest hammer a coach has is ice time,” Sullivan said. “There have been situations where the coaching staff has utilized that.

“That’s not something this coaching staff likes to do. We want our guys to take ownership of their respective game. We want them to take ownership for the way this team is going to play.”

Sullivan said Guentzel played better in the third period. “I knew he would,” the coach said.

Guentzel did shoulder part of the blame.

“The second period kind of hurt us a little bit, and it started with me,” he said.

The Penguins had a good opportunity to tie the score in the third period when the Ducks were called for two penalties within 1:43. The Penguins had consecutive power plays, including a 17-second two-man advantage, but failed to score. For the game, the Penguins scored on only one of nine power-play shots (Malkin).

The Ducks set the final score when Getzlaf scored into an empty net with 49 seconds left in the game.

Malkin, who scored for the first time in eight games, said the team’s problems are fixable.

“We have got to understand every game is important,” he said. “Guys try hard but maybe not enough. We lose focus for 20 minutes, and they win the game.

“You can fix anything. We’re professional.”

Jerry DiPaola is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Jerry at jdipaola@tribweb.com or via Twitter @JDiPaola_Trib.

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