PITTSBURGH – Sidney Crosby couldn’t seem to get a shot. Marc-Andre Fleury couldn’t seem to stop one.
The Pittsburgh Penguins began the defence of their Stanley Cup championship by, well, not playing a lot of defence. The Ottawa Senators built two-goal leads three different times and surprised the Penguins by winning 5-4 in Game 1 of their Eastern Conference first-round series Wednesday night.
Not long after the game ended, sports channel FSN Pittsburgh showed the Penguins’ Stanley Cup highlights video. Thanks for the memories, but there wasn’t a whole lot beforehand that was reminiscent of that playoff run.
Until it was too late, the Penguins didn’t seem to realize how difficult the underdog Senators would be, or that every shift, every shot, every rush down ice would be so tightly defended.
Welcome back to the playoffs, Penguins. Not so easy, are they?
“They made it very difficult, and their forwards were coming back hard (on defence),” coach Dan Bylsma said. “They had five men around the net and made it tough to get to the net.”
The Penguins scored four times on 21 shots against goalie Brian Elliott in his playoff debut, but Crosby – the NHL goal scoring co-champion – managed only two, none until the third period. He did get three assists.
For the Senators, Chris Kelly had a goal and two assists, and linemates Jarkko Ruutu and Chris Neil also scored, even while they were making it exceedingly difficult for the Penguins in the offensive zone.
“Night in, night out, they’re grinding it out, getting in people’s faces,” Senators captain Daniel Alfredsson said. “Obviously it’s great to see them be rewarded with getting some points and some goals. They were the difference tonight.”
For the Penguins, Fleury wasn’t the difference, and it made a big difference.
Last season, he allowed Detroit only two goals in the final two games of the Stanley Cup finals as Pittsburgh rallied from a 3-2 series deficit. Against Ottawa, Fleury was as inconsistent and uneven as he was during the season, when he went 37-21-6 despite lapses in his play.
“Any time there’s so many goals against, it’s frustrating for sure,” Fleury said.
Not enough to make Bylsma think about going to backup Brent Johnson, but …
“I think there’s a couple (of goals) he’s going to be thinking about, is going to want back. He knows he has to be a lot better to give us a chance,” Bylsma said.
So does Crosby, who probably wouldn’t have been surprised if Senators defencemen Chris Phillips and Anton Volchenkov began accompanying him to the bench after every shift.
With their star so tightly covered, the Penguins – seemingly unsettled by Ottawa’s defensive pressure – were held to a single shot during a stretch lasting 21 minutes 53 seconds that followed Evgeni Malkin’s goal barely 3 minutes into the game.
The Senators, one of the biggest underdogs of the first-round qualifiers, went from being down a goal to being up 3-1 during that period as Peter Regin, Neil and Kelly scored.
After that, 19-year-old Erik Karlsson and Ruutu scored, each time only several minutes after the Penguins closed within one. For Pittsburgh, Malkin scored twice, and Craig Adams and Alex Goligoski also had goals.
Crosby has been limited to two goals in 17 regular-season games against the Senators, partly because of Volchenkov and Phillips. Still, he had five goals in nine playoff games against them, and there weren’t many concerns in Pittsburgh that he would have trouble creating offence.
“For sure we’d like to get to their D-men and have some speed through the neutral zone, but that starts in other places, too, and we have got to get there,” Crosby said.
Again, as they so often do, the Penguins talked about getting to their game. Again, they couldn’t seem to find it.
“For sure, we gave them a little bit of an advantage right now, but we just have to come back and prepare ourselves for Game 2 and win Game 2 (on Friday),” forward Alexei Ponikarovsky said. “Nobody knows what’s going to happen; we just have to work hard and win the rest of them.”