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Sloppy defense, carelessness with puck plague Penguins

| Friday, May 3, 2013, 10:03 p.m.
Chaz Palla | Tribune-Review
The Penguins' Evgeni Malkin pokes the puck past Islanders goaltender Evgeni Nabokov in the first period Friday, May 3, 2013, at Consol Energy Center.

Having Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin in the lineup is usually a problem for Penguins' opponents.

In a funny way, it also can be a problem for the Penguins.

When their two superstars are healthy, the Penguins have shown an undeniable lapse in their defensive play at times during the past two seasons, notably in the 2012 Stanley Cup playoffs against Philadelphia.

That tendency was very much on display when the Penguins fell to the Islanders, 4-3, in Game 2 of the Eastern Conference quarterfinals at Consol Energy Center on Friday.

The Penguins gave up 42 shots, but that was only part of the story.

Their inability to make simple plays, like getting the puck deep instead of opting for a fancy drop pass, was a evident throughout the game.

“We were committed in Game 1 to imposing our will on them and forechecking the heck out of them,” defenseman Matt Niskanen said. “We got away from that a little bit. Too many turnovers in the neutral zone.”

In many cases, it was the Penguins' best players who were making mistakes.

Despite their electric start to the evening, Crosby and Malkin, who combined to score all of the Penguins' goals, turned the puck over at alarming rates.

Crosby was charged with two giveaways, and Malkin was guilty of a team-high three turnovers, according to official statistics. Malkin was particularly ineffective during the final period.

The official stats charged the Penguins with 11 giveaways compared to only two New York turnovers.

Defenseman Kris Letang insists the presence of Crosby and Malkin does not compel the Penguins to focus exclusively on offensive hockey.

““They're out there trying to make plays,” said Letang. “We're trying to make plays with them. I don't think that's a problem.”

Last season, when Crosby returned in March from a concussion, the Penguins scored almost five goals per game down the stretch. They also permitted more than four goals per game in that period, which foreshadowed their early exit — and a staggering goals against total of 30 against the Flyers — in the postseason.

They blew a 3-1 lead at home in Game 2 against the Flyers.

It was difficult for the Penguins to stop their minds from wandering back to last spring.

“Maybe a little,” Niskanen admitted. “Last year seemed more chaotic. A lot of it tonight was us shooting ourselves in the foot.”

A perfect example of the Penguins' sloppiness occurred in the second period. Instead of getting the puck deep, right wing Pascal Dupuis attempted a centering pass that was intercepted. Moments later, the Islanders evened the game on a Matt Martin goal.

In the third period, Iginla and Malkin both were guilty of giveaways via ill-advised drop passes. Moments later, Kyle Okposo notched the game-winning goal.

“We turned more pucks over than we should have,” right wing Craig Adams said. “It was one of the things we didn't do well.”

Adams, never one of the Penguins guilty of high-risk hockey, believes the Penguins will be fine.

“We don't need to rethink our strategy,” he said. “We just need to execute better.”

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