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Capitals frustrate Penguins again

| Thursday, March 25, 2010

WASHINGTON -- A 4-3 shootout loss to the NHL-leading Washington Capitals at Verizon Center elicited these words Wednesday night from Penguins defenseman Brooks Orpik, widely considered the club's conscience:

"Maybe I'm in the minority here, (but) I'm getting tired of hearing we worked hard or maybe deserved better. We're not winning hockey games, and that's what it comes down to. I don't feel very good leaving the rink when you lose."

Orpik is one of few Penguins to have consistently spoken out against the club's inconsistent play since a 10-3-0 trek through October, though oft-positive veteran winger Bill Guerin said he didn't "have an answer" for the Penguins' third straight failure this season to win a third period against the Capitals.

Two blown leads last night - a 2-1 advantage in the third period and a 2-0 score in the shootout -- which the Capitals won, 3-2, on veteran winger Mike Knuble's score - left the Penguins 2-3-3 since a 4-0-0 run out of the Olympic break.

The Penguins (42-25-7, 91 points) are all but a lock to hold home-ice advantage in the opening playoff round and could still win the Atlantic Division to earn the No. 2 seed in the Eastern Conference, but ...

"The frustrating part is you make the same mistakes over and over and you don't learn from them," Orpik said. "It's not like we're getting behind. We're blowing leads."

The Penguins turned an opportunity to go up by two goals on an early third-period power play into a sweet shorthanded scoring chance by skilled Capitals winger Alexander Semin, who converted an offensive-zone turnover by Sidney Crosby into a tying marker at 5:36.

About two minutes later the Capitals went ahead, 3-2, on winger Eric Fehr's blast past Penguins goalie Marc-Andre Fleury. That goal swelled the Capitals' third-period advantage on the Penguins over the past two seasons to 16-1.

Center Jordan Staal stalled that run with 3:06 remaining, with his 21st goal pulling the Penguins even, 3-3, and earning them a point.

Still, Fleury allowed three straight shootout goals after the Penguins jumped ahead on scores by defenseman Kris Letang and Crosby, who is without a goal - shootout scores don't count - in six straight games.

Wingers Alex Ovechkin, Semin and Knuble ran off shootout scores for the Capitals, who improved to 3-0-0 against the Penguins this season.

The Penguins have blown third-period leads in two of those losses, though they have taken two points from Washington.

Guerin, who failed to win the shootout for the Penguins in the third round, scored on a power play in the second period. He converted a nifty backhand dish from Crosby into his 19th goal to give the Penguins a 2-1 lead.

Forward Max Talbot, playing a second straight game because center Evgeni Malkin is out with a bruised right foot, snapped a 30-game goal drought with his second in the second period. That marker answered Knuble's goal 1:09 into the second.

The Penguins, who also were without top defenseman Sergei Gonchar (illness), forced Washington goalie Jose Theodore to make 39 saves through overtime.

Still, Orpik was hardly impressed by what looked to be one of their better performances over the last two weeks.

"We get a power play in the third period, up by a goal - and even before that Semin goal it was just sloppy there. It looked like we lost our focus for whatever reason. It's just real frustrating right now," he said.

"I'm getting very concerned. Everyone wants to talk about the playoffs. We've got eight games to go here and we're not playing too well. The way we're playing now, we'll be out in the first round."

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