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Penguins

Penguins goaltender Antti Niemi struggles again in lopsided loss to Lightning

Jonathan Bombulie
| Saturday, Oct. 21, 2017, 9:57 p.m.

TAMPA, Fla. – Before Saturday night's game, Penguins coach Mike Sullivan said the hardest part of coaching a defending Stanley Cup champion is “getting the guys reinvested to play the game the right way” in October after the heights they reached in June.

Seeing that they're giving up more than four goals per game nine games into the season, it's an objective the Penguins clearly have failed to reach so far.

Nikita Kucherov had two goals, and Steven Stamkos added four points as the Tampa Bay Lightning routed the Penguins, 7-1.

The loss snapped a three-game winning streak for the Penguins and dropped them to 5-3-1 for the season.

“I think right now we're a flawed hockey team,” Sullivan said. “We've got to shore up a lot of areas. I don't think it has anything to do with back-to-backs. I think it has to do with a mindset and willingness to play the game the right way.”

Although it specifically was not one of the flaws Sullivan was referring to, backup goaltending isn't helping matters any for the Penguins. After stopping 25 of 32 shots Saturday, Antti Niemi is 0-3 with a 7.49 goals-against average and .797 save percentage this season. Those numbers are objectively abysmal.

Still, Niemi's performances have been fraught with extenuating circumstances.

Most notably, all three of his starts have come on the tail end of sets of back-to-back games on the road against powerful opponents: Chicago in the first week of the season and Tampa Bay twice since.

The Penguins have been outscored 22-6 in the three back-to-back finales. They've outscored opponents 24-17 in their other six games.

“The teams that we played aren't going to let up,” captain Sidney Crosby said. “They're going to keep coming. It's something we've got to correct.”

A penalty on Crosby in the first minute of Saturday's game wasn't ideal for the Penguins, either.

Crosby was whistled for cross-checking while exchanging words and shoves with Yanni Gourde as they made their way back to the bench at the end of the opening shift of the first period.

Crosby was livid at the call, saying it was a situation that happens dozens of times a game. He picked up a 10-minute misconduct for arguing with referee Garrett Rank about it.

Still, when Kucherov snapped a shot past Niemi on the power play that followed, the Penguins set an ominous tone for the rest of the game.

“That's not the way you want to start, and that's on me,” Crosby said. “Obviously it's tough to have that happen.”

Niemi thought things went south when Gourde scored a buzzer-beater on a rebound with 0.2 seconds left in the first period to give the Lightning a 3-0 lead. He also gave up three goals in the second period on shots that normally would be considered reasonably stoppable.

Regardless, he said he doesn't feel like his game is too far off kilter.

“I still felt OK there,” Niemi said. “I think I made a few good saves. Obviously it wasn't even close to enough, but I think I'm really close.”

Sullivan declined to heap blame on Niemi.

“It doesn't fall on any one guy,” Sullivan said. “We just simply didn't play hard enough or well enough in front of him. We win as a team and lose as a team.”

A few hours after the Penguins acquired center Riley Sheahan from the Detroit Red Wings, they lost another player at the position due to injury. Carter Rowney suffered a hand injury while blocking a shot on the penalty kill in the first period and did not return.

Sullivan said Rowney will be evaluated when the team returns to Pittsburgh.

Jonathan Bombulie is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at jbombulie@tribweb.com or via Twitter at @BombulieTrib.

Pittsburgh Penguins goalie Antti Niemi (31), of Finland, reacts after Tampa Bay Lightning right wing Nikita Kucherov (86), of Russia, scored against him during the second period of an NHL hockey game Saturday, Oct. 21, 2017, in Tampa, Fla. (AP Photo/Chris O'Meara)
Pittsburgh Penguins goalie Antti Niemi (31), of Finland, reacts after Tampa Bay Lightning right wing Nikita Kucherov (86), of Russia, scored against him during the second period of an NHL hockey game Saturday, Oct. 21, 2017, in Tampa, Fla. (AP Photo/Chris O'Meara)
Tampa Bay Lightning right wing Nikita Kucherov (86), of Russia, celebrates after scoring past Pittsburgh Penguins goalie Antti Niemi (31), of Finland, during the second period of an NHL hockey game Saturday, Oct. 21, 2017, in Tampa, Fla. (AP Photo/Chris O'Meara)
Tampa Bay Lightning right wing Nikita Kucherov (86), of Russia, celebrates after scoring past Pittsburgh Penguins goalie Antti Niemi (31), of Finland, during the second period of an NHL hockey game Saturday, Oct. 21, 2017, in Tampa, Fla. (AP Photo/Chris O'Meara)
Lightning left wing Chris Kunitz (14) checks Penguins right wing Phil Kessel (81) during the second period of an NHL hockey game Saturday, Oct. 21, 2017, in Tampa, Fla.
Lightning left wing Chris Kunitz (14) checks Penguins right wing Phil Kessel (81) during the second period of an NHL hockey game Saturday, Oct. 21, 2017, in Tampa, Fla.
Penguins goalie Antti Niemi makes a save against the Lightning during the second period Saturday, Oct. 21, 2017, in Tampa, Fla.
Penguins goalie Antti Niemi makes a save against the Lightning during the second period Saturday, Oct. 21, 2017, in Tampa, Fla.
Pittsburgh Penguins center Greg McKegg (33) hooks Tampa Bay Lightning center Steven Stamkos (91) during the second period of an NHL hockey game Saturday, Oct. 21, 2017, in Tampa, Fla. McKegg was called for the penalty. (AP Photo/Chris O'Meara)
Pittsburgh Penguins center Greg McKegg (33) hooks Tampa Bay Lightning center Steven Stamkos (91) during the second period of an NHL hockey game Saturday, Oct. 21, 2017, in Tampa, Fla. McKegg was called for the penalty. (AP Photo/Chris O'Meara)
Pittsburgh Penguins defenseman Kris Letang (58) controls the puck in front of Tampa Bay Lightning right wing Nikita Kucherov (86), of Russia, during the second period of an NHL hockey game Saturday, Oct. 21, 2017, in Tampa, Fla. (AP Photo/Chris O'Meara)
Pittsburgh Penguins defenseman Kris Letang (58) controls the puck in front of Tampa Bay Lightning right wing Nikita Kucherov (86), of Russia, during the second period of an NHL hockey game Saturday, Oct. 21, 2017, in Tampa, Fla. (AP Photo/Chris O'Meara)
Tampa Bay Lightning center Brayden Point (21) shoots the puck past Pittsburgh Penguins right wing Patric Hornqvist (72), of Sweden,, defenseman Olli Maatta (3), of Finland, and goalie Antti Niemi (31), also of Finland, for a goal during the second period of an NHL hockey game Saturday, Oct. 21, 2017, in Tampa, Fla. (AP Photo/Chris O'Meara)
Tampa Bay Lightning center Brayden Point (21) shoots the puck past Pittsburgh Penguins right wing Patric Hornqvist (72), of Sweden,, defenseman Olli Maatta (3), of Finland, and goalie Antti Niemi (31), also of Finland, for a goal during the second period of an NHL hockey game Saturday, Oct. 21, 2017, in Tampa, Fla. (AP Photo/Chris O'Meara)
Tampa Bay Lightning center Steven Stamkos (91) celebrates with left wing Alex Killorn (17) and center Vladislav Namestnikov (90), of Russia, after scoring against the Pittsburgh Penguins during the first period of an NHL hockey game Saturday, Oct. 21, 2017, in Tampa, Fla. (AP Photo/Chris O'Meara)
Tampa Bay Lightning center Steven Stamkos (91) celebrates with left wing Alex Killorn (17) and center Vladislav Namestnikov (90), of Russia, after scoring against the Pittsburgh Penguins during the first period of an NHL hockey game Saturday, Oct. 21, 2017, in Tampa, Fla. (AP Photo/Chris O'Meara)
Tampa Bay Lightning center Yanni Gourde (37) celebrates with the bench after his goal against the Pittsburgh Penguins during the first period of an NHL hockey game Saturday, Oct. 21, 2017, in Tampa, Fla. (AP Photo/Chris O'Meara)
Tampa Bay Lightning center Yanni Gourde (37) celebrates with the bench after his goal against the Pittsburgh Penguins during the first period of an NHL hockey game Saturday, Oct. 21, 2017, in Tampa, Fla. (AP Photo/Chris O'Meara)
Tampa Bay Lightning goalie Andrei Vasilevskiy (88), of Russia, makes a save as Pittsburgh Penguins center Sidney Crosby (87) gets tied up by Lightning defenseman Slater Koekkoek (29) during the first period of an NHL hockey game Saturday, Oct. 21, 2017, in Tampa, Fla. (AP Photo/Chris O'Meara)
Tampa Bay Lightning goalie Andrei Vasilevskiy (88), of Russia, makes a save as Pittsburgh Penguins center Sidney Crosby (87) gets tied up by Lightning defenseman Slater Koekkoek (29) during the first period of an NHL hockey game Saturday, Oct. 21, 2017, in Tampa, Fla. (AP Photo/Chris O'Meara)
Pittsburgh Penguins left wing Carl Hagelin (62), of Sweden, gets around Tampa Bay Lightning defenseman Anton Stralman (6), also of Sweden, during the first period of an NHL hockey game Saturday, Oct. 21, 2017, in Tampa, Fla. (AP Photo/Chris O'Meara)
Pittsburgh Penguins left wing Carl Hagelin (62), of Sweden, gets around Tampa Bay Lightning defenseman Anton Stralman (6), also of Sweden, during the first period of an NHL hockey game Saturday, Oct. 21, 2017, in Tampa, Fla. (AP Photo/Chris O'Meara)
Tampa Bay Lightning right wing Nikita Kucherov (86), of Russia, is lifted up by defenseman Victor Hedman (77), of Sweden, after scoring against the Pittsburgh Penguins during the first period of an NHL hockey game Saturday, Oct. 21, 2017, in Tampa, Fla. (AP Photo/Chris O'Meara)
Tampa Bay Lightning right wing Nikita Kucherov (86), of Russia, is lifted up by defenseman Victor Hedman (77), of Sweden, after scoring against the Pittsburgh Penguins during the first period of an NHL hockey game Saturday, Oct. 21, 2017, in Tampa, Fla. (AP Photo/Chris O'Meara)
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