By Dan Scifo
From the Point Contributor
PITTSBURGH – The Pittsburgh Penguins are looking to re-discover the consistency they played with in the early portions of the season.
The Penguins fell flat one game after a come-from-behind win as Nashville backup goaltender Carter Hutton turned aside all 21 shots faced for his second career shutout, leading the Predators to a suffocating 4-0 victory Sunday at Consol Energy Center in Pittsburgh.
“We have to be better and we need to find our game,” Penguins’ captain Sidney Crosby said. “Sometimes adversity isn’t a bad thing, but we have to handle it the right way.
“We need to make sure our game is better and more consistent.”
Hutton had plenty of help defensively to win his third game of the season, filling in for Predators’ star goaltender Pekka Rinne, who remains out with a knee injury. He is 3-1-2 since taking over for Rinne, who last played on Jan. 13.
“He looked really good,” Predators’ coach Peter Laviolette said. “I thought our guys were sharp in front of him, but he had to make some saves. It was nice to see him get a win.”
Roman Josi netted his ninth of the year, while Eric Nystrom scored his sixth and Gabriel Bourque his third for the Predators, who snapped a five-game losing streak against the Penguins.
Mike Fisher also scored a third-period power-play goal, his 12th of the season on a screen provided by former Penguin James Neal, helping the Predators to their second victory in six games after previously winning five straight. Nashville defeated the Penguins for the first time since Feb. 14, 2010, recording its first regulation win in Pittsburgh since March 4, 2004.
Marc-Andre Fleury made 20 saves for the struggling Penguins, who won just four of their last 10 games. Pittsburgh, still second in the Metropolitan Division, was unable to capitalize on Friday’s victory at New Jersey, and hasn’t won back-to-back games in almost a month.
“You can’t be good one shift and take a couple off,” Crosby said. “Consistency is a big part of our game that we need to find.”
The Penguins were sloppy in their own zone and unable to produce offense in the Predators’ end as Shea Weber and the defense limited their chances and quickly swept away any rebound opportunities.
“I thought they did a good job of keeping us to the outside,” Penguins’ coach Mike Johnston said. “They’re a team that when they keep you to the outside, usually there’s not a lot of second-chance opportunities.”
Bourque gave the Predators a two-goal lead just 2:33 after Josi opened the scoring at 4:05 of the first period, turning an errant giveaway in front of the net by Penguins’ D Simon Despres into an easy goal.
“(Despres) made a play to the middle of the ice when he shouldn’t have,” Johnston said. “You just can’t make those plays inside unless you’re totally sure. That wasn’t a good choice.”
The Penguins were unable to clear their zone in the final minute of the second period, leading to the Predators’ third goal, this time by Nystrom. He gave Nashville a three-goal lead when he took the turnover behind the defense, deked to the forehand and put a shot past a twisting desperation glove try from Fleury.
The Penguins had three second-period power play chances, but came up empty in all three. The best opportunities came in the first period when Maxim Lapierre rung a shot off the cross-bar and during the second when Hutton denied former Predator Nick Spaling on a breakaway.
“We had a few chances that we didn’t bury,” Spaling said. “We didn’t have too many chances at rebounds or plays around the net.”
It was a quiet game for Spaling, in addition to Neal and Patric Hornqvist, the centerpieces of an off-season trade designed to bolster both clubs.
Neal played in Pittsburgh for the first time since the draft-day trade sent the high-scoring winger to Nashville where he has helped the Predators become a surprise contender.
“It was good for us to get a win and I’m sure it was important to (Neal), back against your old team,” Laviolette said.
Neal flourished in Pittsburgh, scoring at least 21 goals in three full seasons with a career-best 40 in 2011-12, emerging as one of the top goal-scorers in the league.
But he was dealt to Nashville during the summer after another disappointing early playoff exit in Pittsburgh. He continues to thrive with 16 goals and 28 points, leading the Predators to the top spot in the Central Division.
“He’s been a huge part of our leadership group,” Laviolette said. “He’s been somebody who has come in and played a lot of different roles for us. On and off the ice he’s been really strong.”
The Penguins brought in Hornqvist and Spaling in the trade for Neal, looking for depth up front.
Hornqvist, whose 400th career game came against his former team, spent six seasons in Nashville, playing 363 career games. Hornqvist, who recently missed 11 games with a lower-body injury, is fourth on the team with 14 goals and fifth with 30 points.
It’s not good enough right now for the Penguins, who are looking to right the ship starting Wednesday when they begin a three-game road swing through Western Canada.
“Going on the road sometimes simplifies things,” Crosby said. “This will be a big trip for us.”
NOTES: Penguins’ C Evgeni Malkin missed his fifth straight game with a groin injury… The Penguins have scored just twice in their last three games.