A disastrous day for the Penguins

| Sunday, Jan. 4, 2009

Things are going so poorly for the Penguins that Sidney Crosby picked a fight and couldn't even get his opponent to respond.

A humiliating, 6-1 loss to the Florida Panthers on Saturday took a wild turn with 2:59 left in the second period, when Crosby pounced on Panthers forward Brett McLean in the faceoff circle.

McLean did not reciprocate. Crosby pulled McLean's jersey over his head, tried to throw some punches and finally slammed McLean face-first to the ice.

"I asked him to go, and he said yes, and usually, yes means yes," Crosby said. "I guess he didn't take me seriously. I mean, I wouldn't have wasted 20 minutes in the box for that."

Actually, Crosby served 19 minutes for the second fight of his four-year career. That included his first-ever two-minute instigator penalty, plus a two-minute unsportsmanlike-conduct penalty, a five-minute fighting major and a 10-minute misconduct.

McLean was assessed a five-minute major.

Crosby easily could have been handed a game misconduct, as NHL rules stipulate that "a player who is deemed to be the instigator and aggressor" in a fight shall be assessed a game misconduct.

McLean, for his part, claimed he never heard Crosby's challenge.

"He said something before the draw," McLean said, "but I didn't really pick up on it."

The Panthers were leading, 4-1, at the time and were well on their way to dealing the Penguins a fifth consecutive home loss, the team's longest such skid since midway through the 2005-06 season.

Florida hadn't scored six goals in a game in nearly a year.

Panthers veteran Nick Boynton ripped Crosby.

"I thought it was unprofessional," Boynton said. "You don't jump a guy while his head's down, taking a faceoff. That's pretty immature and childish."

The loss dropped the Penguins into ninth place in the Eastern Conference, a point behind the Buffalo Sabres. The Penguins are 4-10 in their past 14 games, with five of the losses coming to teams under .500.

Fans booed the Penguins off the ice at the end of the second period.

"We needed to correct this three weeks ago," forward Matt Cooke said.

Added defenseman Brooks Orpik: "I think it's pretty clear in the minds of all the guys that it's a pretty dangerous time."

Coach Michel Therrien thought his team played with good energy early but sagged when Florida scored two first-period goals to take a 2-0 lead. He placed blame for the loss squarely on his goaltenders, Marc-Andre Fleury and Dany Sabourin, each of whom gave up three goals on 12 shots.

Fleury came into the game ranked 34th in the 30-team NHL in goals-against average (2.96) and 28th in save percentage (.907).

Therrien pulled both goalies — Fleury was removed after the first period, then reinstated for the third — and subsequently pulled himself from his post-game media session, in the middle of a question.

As Therrien stalked away from the podium, a reporter asked, "Can you win with these players, Mike?"

The coach did not provide an answer, kind of like the power play of late. Evgeni Malkin was moved up front, but the unit went 0-for-3 to make it 0-for-24 in the past six games.

Poor special-teams play conspired with defensive breakdowns, blown scoring chances and shaky goaltending — Florida scored on three of its first six shots — to produce the Penguins' worst loss of the season and their worst home loss since Feb. 2, 2006 (7-2 against Ottawa).

All of which leads one to wonder if general manager Ray Shero might be forced to shake things up.

Crosby was asked if it's getting to that point.

"We're not making it easy," he said. "That's for sure."

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