Penguins fall at Florida in shootout
SUNRISE, Fla. — Three of the more intriguing terms in the lexicon developed by the Penguins during the past month applied to their 2-1 shootout loss to the Florida Panthers on Monday at BB&T Center.
There was “desperation,” a quality Sidney Crosby sought from the Penguins as they exited the All-Star break and was apparent in the latter two periods Monday, which Chris Kunitz tied with about three minutes remaining in regulation.
“Ugly,” used by Patric Hornqvist to describe the win over Carolina on Friday, again proved a fitting description of play, due in part to sub-optimal ice conditions in Florida.
And “opportunistic,” coach Mike Sullivan’s preferred word to describe opponents’ goals in games when the Penguins largely control play, remained accurate as the Panthers led for a majority of the game despite a sizable deficit in shots during that stretch.
For a third time in as many opportunities this season, the Penguins and Panthers needed more than 60 minutes to determine a winner. Crosby buried his attempt as the shootout’s first participant, but Kunitz, Kris Letang, Phil Kessel and Matt Cullen failed in the following rounds against Al Montoya.
Marc-Andre Fleury gave up shootout goals to Jussi Jokinen and Nick Bjugstad.
“It seems like there’s such a fine line between winning and losing in this league,” Sullivan said. “As you get closer to the playoffs, the games get that much tighter.
“Tonight, I thought, for the most part, we controlled territory pretty well. I thought we had a number of quality chances. It didn’t go in the net for us.”
Responsible for just two goals in their past nine periods, not including overtimes, the Penguins are again straining to turn favorable margins in shot attempts and scoring opportunities into pucks in the net. But unlike when they had an almost completely healthy lineup and an abnormally low shooting percentage during their late-December slump, the trouble likely now stems from the absence of Evgeni Malkin and depth-boosting forwards Beau Bennett, Nick Bonino and Eric Fehr.
Relying on defense-first centers Cullen, Kevin Porter and Oskar Sundqvist to anchor three of their four forward lines and uncertain who beyond Crosby and Letang can produce points consistently, the Penguins are inclined to grind their way through games.
“We could’ve easily got more than one goal tonight,” Crosby said. “I thought throughout the game we had a number of chances to keep it from going that long. … You just take the (standings) point and make sure that we’re better next game and find a way to get two.”
Florida jumped to a quick start with six shot attempts in the first four minutes, and it went ahead when Bjugstad tapped in a firm pass that defenseman Alex Petrovic snapped from the right point just 7:30 into the opening period.
The Penguins pushed back with clusters of chances to beat Montoya over the next 40-plus minutes. Power plays, including one just two minutes after Bjugstad’s goal, allowed first-liners Crosby and Hornqvist to generate some confidence after a poor start.
Crosby, who fueled the Penguins’ 3-2 comeback win over the Panthers on Feb. 6, finished with just two shots on goal, but his linemates, Hornqvist and Kunitz, combined for 10.
During the middle of the Penguins’ three penalty kills, Carl Hagelin stole a puck and raced into Florida’s end on a breakaway for a golden game-tying opportunity in the third period, but his attempt to sneak a shot between Montoya’s legs failed.
A defining moment for the Penguins came during their second power play, when Hornqvist went to the bench and angrily kicked the door, producing an audible thud in the arena, after forward Vincent Trocheck, an Upper St. Clair native, caught him in the face with a stick.
Fleury finished with 27 saves, and Montoya had 31.
“Playing these last few games, we’re playing against defensive-minded teams,” forward Bryan Rust said. “We had a lot of really good O-zone stuff. We were getting a lot of good chances. We just didn’t get a bounce, didn’t put one in the back of the net. That’s something that we’ve got to do a little more of moving forward, especially if we want to take more points.”