Friday April 16th, 2010

PITTSBURGH -- Some things went right for the Penguins in the opener of their seven-game series on Wednesday night. The defending Stanley Cup champions held Ottawa snipers Jason Spezza and Daniel Alfredsson without a goal. The Penguins got two man-advantage goals from Evgeni Malkin and a highlight-film worthy assist from Sidney Crosby on another score. And yet, despite having two more power plays than Ottawa had and despite going against a goalie who was only so-so for most of the night, the Penguins fell 5-4 on home ice. Clearly, the champs have things to correct for Game 2.

The Penguins' defense, its good work against Spezza and Alfredsson notwithstanding (Alfredsson didn't register a shot) made some costly mistakes. So did goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury.

On Ottawa's first goal, Pittsburgh defenseman Sergei Gonchar did a poor job of picking up hard-charging Peter Regin after Fleury gave up a rebound on a shot by Spezza. Regin buried the freebie in front of him to tie the score. On the second, Fleury made a stop on shot by Anton Volchenkov, but the rebound popped into the air. Penguins' defenseman Jordan Leopold was knocked off balance while fellow Pittsburgh blueliner Alex Goligoski got tangled up with Jarkko Ruutu. So Chris Neil was there to cash in that rebound after having way too much time to settle the puck into a shooting position.

That sort of sloppiness went on all night, especially on the part of Fleury, who allowed one juicy rebound after another and wasn't properly set on the Senators' fifth goal. When it came to his goalie, however, Penguins coach Dan Bylsma was all about looking forward. "He's a guy who . . . after situations where he's been pulled or had a bad game, he comes back with a good performance," Bylsma said. "Marc's our guy. We're confident in the guy we have back there. He's a guy who's made big saves for us. . .There were a couple he'll be thinking about, a couple he'll want back."


On the other side, Senators goalie Brian Elliott was passable in the first postseason contest of his career, but the Penguins are not exactly staring at Ryan Miller here. Elliott was slow to get over to his left for Malkin's first goal and he gave up another goal between his pads on a shot by the Penguin center. The Penguins simply didn't test him enough, another issue they'll need to address in Game 2.

As much as they could during a road game, the Senators tried to have the defense pairing of Chris Phillips and Volchenkov out against Crosby, and Bylsma rarely made an attempt to change that. "Getting away from a defensive pairing is harder than getting away from a forward line," the coach said. "It seemed like whenever we had them off the ice, we turned the puck over and they were able to change. The more you try to avoid a match-up, the more you take away from the flow of the game." This has worked against Crosby before. The Sens held him to three assists in four games this season.

Crosby played well on Wednesday. He had three assists, and his no-look, behind-the-back pass from behind the net that set up Goligoski for the Pens' fourth goal was positively Gretzkian in its imagination and execution. But, he was unable to unload the way a 50-goal scorer should. Crosby didn't manage a shot until the third period and was in close quarters all night. "We talked about keeping him in traffic," Ottawa's Neil said after the game. "Clog the passing lanes, get in front of shots, finish checks. It's nothing new, really, but we really wanted to do that with him."

Even Spezza, better known for scoring than banging, nailed Crosby with a solid hit. Crosby needs to find more room as this series goes on.

Add Milan Michalek to a Senators' injury list that includes sniper Alex Kovalev and defenseman Filip Kuba. Michalek, an effective second-line forward has a torn ACL in his right knee. The line of Michalek, Mike Fisher and Matt Cullen had been strong defensively for the Sens. Look for Ryan Shannon to replace Michalek for Game 2.

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