Penguins fall 4-1 to Columbus
The Penguins are one win away from giving coach Dan Bylsma his 100th career victory.
It sure feels like they're even closer to a damaging losing streak.
Playing without their two best players — and throw Chris Kunitz's name onto the injury list — the Penguins were feeble offensively for a second straight game in a 4-1 loss to Columbus at Consol Energy Center.
They weren't much better defensively.
With nine of their next 12 games on the road, and Sidney Crosby apparently not close to returning, the question now becomes, how do the Penguins avoid what could be an inevitable losing skid?
"We just need to regroup," defenseman Zbynek Michalek said. "We have to learn from these last two games. We've played well without them (Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin) before. We need to do it again."
Playing sound defensive hockey over the next stretch of games seems mandatory.
Such solid defensive play has been a theme most of the season but wasn't evident against the Blue Jackets. Columbus enjoyed an array of odd-man rushes against Marc-Andre Fleury, who made a number of quality saves but allowed four goals for the first time since Nov. 19.
"When you're not scoring goals, it makes it (defensive breakdowns) that much worse," right wing Craig Adams said. "We just need to play better. We didn't play well enough to win these last two games. We weren't horrible, but we weren't nearly good enough."
Columbus silenced the home crowd by taking a 3-0 lead into the third period before Tyler Kennedy's 10th goal helped the Penguins avoid consecutive shutouts.
Eric Tangradi, who was scheduled to be a healthy scratch before Kunitz's lower body injury forced him into the lineup, probably enjoyed the Penguins' two best scoring opportunities. His wrist shot from the slot was stopped by Columbus goalie Steve Mason in the second period. Later in that period, Mason coughed up the puck to Tangradi in the goalmouth, but the left wing didn't get much wood on his shot, allowing Mason time to make the save.
"It was such of a spur of the moment play," Tangradi said. "You don't really expect to get the puck there."
Columbus star Rick Nash started the scoring 6:07 into the game when he fired a laser from a bad angle that beat Fleury. Samuel Pahlsson and Jakub Voracek scored in the second period to break the game open for the Blue Jackets.
Antoine Vermette's goal came six minutes after Kennedy pulled the Penguins within two.
Bylsma and some of his players commented that the Penguins made the game too complicated against Columbus.
"We need to get the puck deep and start making simple plays," Michalek said. "With Sid and Geno out, that's how we need to play."
Bylsma juggled some line combinations and will surely contemplate ways to generate offense during today's off-day.
"We'll continue to look for lines and people who are able and willing to get to the offensive zone," he said. "I think the players we have on the ice right now can do a better job of getting to the blue paint."
The Penguins won in Columbus in December, 7-1. Of course, those were different times, as Crosby was launching an assault on the league, and the Penguins looked invincible.
Nine of their next 12 games are on the road, with the only three home games in that stretch against talented teams in Los Angeles, Washington and San Jose.
"No," Adams said. "We can't worry about the next 12. We just have to get ready for L.A."