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No defense for Penguins in shootout loss to Rangers

| Friday, Feb. 7, 2014, 10:09 p.m.
Chaz Palla | Tribune-Review
The Rangers' Dan Girardi's second-period shot gets past Penguins goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury on Friday, Feb. 7, 2014, at Consol Energy Center.

If this were a glimpse of the Penguins' defense, expecting another prolonged absence of Kris Letang, it didn't go well.

Hours after learning they might be without their top defenseman for the remainder of the season because Letang suffered a stroke, the Penguins played one of their poorest defensive games of the season in a 4-3 shootout loss to theNew York Rangers at Consol Energy Center.

“We've had some good efforts in close ones,” left wing Tanner Glass said. “Not tonight, obviously.”

It was the first time in 10 shootouts that the Penguins lost.

The Rangers fired 41 shots at goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury.

Penguins defensemen, other than the pairing of Matt Niskanen and Olli Maatta, did not acquit themselves well.

“The Rangers came out desperate,” defenseman Brooks Orpik said. “I don't think they were too pleased with losing to Edmonton last night at home. For 58 minutes, we got outskated and outworked.”

The Penguins looked like a team ready for the Olympic break. Seven of their players will travel to Sochi, Russia, this weekend, while the rest of the team will get time off.

The Penguins' play has been spotty of late, and it caught up to them Friday as they lost for only the fifth time at home this season.

It wasn't a strong night for the blue line.

Orpik was guilty of two interference penalties, the second of which led to Benoit Pouliot's third-period power-play goal.

Orpik's regular partner, Paul Martin, was unable to check Pouliot adequately on the goal, as the forward pounced on a rebound in front of Fleury.

“We weren't at our best over our past 10 games,” right wing Craig Adams said.

Defenseman Robert Bortuzzo endured perhaps his shakiest game of the season, turning over the puck with regularly. His partner, Rob Scuderi, was on the ice for all three New York goals.

The Rangers, despite playing 24 hours earlier, were the more energetic team and needed only 64 seconds to open the scoring.

Coach Dan Bylsma, who also will head to Sochi to coach Team USA, didn't seem terribly disappointed. After all, the Penguins are still 16 points clear of the Rangers in the division.

“It's been pretty good play from us all around,” Bylsma said. “We just didn't do enough tonight.”

It was a tough night for the Penguins defense, but the youngest member of the group was stellar.

Maatta scored in the first period to tie the game and made a touch pass to James Neal with 2:56 remaining as the right wing managed to even the game.

“Olli made a great play there to set up Nealer,” Orpik said. “It probably gave us a point we didn't deserve.”

Neal was assessed a minor penalty for diving in the second period. It was his third embellishment penalty. The NHL rule books states that a player with three such penalties is subject to a one-game suspension, pending a telephone conversation with the director of Hockey Operations. Neal previously was suspended five games for kneeing Boston's Brad Marchand, although that suspension was handed down as part of Player Safety.

Despite the uncertainty surrounding Letang's status and a possible Neal suspension, the Penguins know they're in a good spot in the standings.

“The only way to play is to play to win, to prepare every night,” Adams said. “If we do that, we're going to get a lot of wins.”

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