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Penguins' plans go up in smoke in road loss in Winnipeg

| Friday, Jan. 25, 2013, 10:38 p.m.
The Jets' Paul Postma sends the Penguins' Chris Kunitz crashing into goaltender Ondrej Pavelec during the first period Friday in Winnipeg, Manitoba. (AP)
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Jets goaltender Ondrej Pavelec looks back at the puck after the Penguins' Sidney Crosby scored during the first period Friday Jan. 25, 2013, at the MTS Centre in Winnipeg, Manitoba. (Getty Images)
The Jets' Evander Kane scores on Penguins goaltender Tomas Vokoun during the second period Friday, Jan. 25, 2013. (AP)
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The Jets' Dustin Byfuglien (left) checks the Penguins' Sidney Crosby during the second period Jan. 25, 2013. (Reuters)
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The Penguins' Pascal Dupuis (left) collides with the Jets' Grant Clitsome during the first period Jan. 25, 2013.
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The Penguins' Tomas Vokoun and Ben Lovejoy watch a shot by Andrew Ladd go into the net during the second period Jan. 25, 2013. (Getty Images)

WINNIPEG, Manitoba – On the morning of Sidney Crosby's NHL debut in this city, he was asked how he might cope with the MTS Centre crowd's famed tormenting of opposing stars.

He would turn in two Grade A answers.

The immediate one: “I've played in Philly.”

Touche.

The second, hours later and far louder: He scored two early goals to shut the place up.

And yet, despite that spark from the captain, despite two days of coaching emphasis on puck management, on slowing opposing wingers, on pushing the forecheck, all that followed for the Penguins was one whale of a fold in falling to Winnipeg, 4-2, Friday night.

The Jets scored the final four goals, including three in a second-period reversal that was as spirited in the seats as on the ice.

“We got away from our game, and they didn't,” Crosby said.

“It's obviously disappointing when you had a two-goal lead, no matter who you're playing but especially in a building like this that can get pretty hostile,” defenseman Brooks Orpik said. “The way we started out, the way Sid got those goals and took their fans out of it, that's a frustrating way to finish.”

The crowd, true to tradition since the Jets rejoined the NHL last season, teased Crosby in the opening minutes with a taunt of “Mario's pool boy.” It was a clear reference to Crosby having been Mario Lemieux's housemate for several years.

Coincidence or not, Crosby came out sharp enough to have scored with a skimmer, twice beating Ondrej Pavelec in the first 14:58.

Was he moved by the chant?

“I didn't hear it,” he said. “I figured they'd come up with something pretty original.”

Being original was the Penguins' goal, too, at least compared to the flatline 5-2 loss to Toronto Maple Leafs in the home opener two days earlier.

Instead, they lapsed right back.

Checking off Dan Bylsma and staff's stressed points in the run-up to this game:

• The Penguins committed a mindbending 19 turnovers — nine official giveaways, plus Winnipeg's 10 takeaways — notably left winger Matt Cooke's that allowed the Jets their first goal, 1:10 into the second period, on a tic-tac-toe gem finished by Evander Kane.

Bylsma blamed the location of the visiting bench – farthest from the defensive zone – for Kris Letang and Matt Niskanen being stuck on a long shift. But that couldn't explain Cooke's gaffe or the backtracking by the defense pair.

• Kane and Blake Wheeler, the Jets' top wingers, were allowed free rein through the neutral zone, much as Phil Kessel and the Maple Leafs' speedy wingers were Wednesday.

“It was pretty back and forth again,” center Brandon Sutter said.

• The forecheck was effective in the first period and the early part of the second, largely because Crosby was ablaze. But the plan to make Winnipeg's lackluster defense uncomfortable badly fizzled from there.

“You've got to get it deep and force the other team's D to turn their backs toward you,” left winger Chris Kunitz said. “It's got to be a constant pressure game, kind of like what we played in Philly and New York.”

That trip might seem much longer ago than a week, given how sloppy the Penguins suddenly have become.

Still, Bylsma balked when asked about any similarity to the home opener.

“I think this game was different in terms of the mindset with which we played,” he said. “A turnover hurt us, but it's a situation we're well aware of.”

Next up will be addressing it, not in the mind but where it matters.

Dejan Kovacevic is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at dkovacevic@tribweb.com or via Twitter @Dejan_Kovacevic.

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