Scifo on the Pens – Penguins drop final game before All-Star break, fall to Blackhawks in shootout

By Dan Scifo
From the Point contributor

PITTSBURGH – It may be a good time for the Pittsburgh Penguins to take a break.

The struggling Penguins, still recovering from an injury-riddled December, battled past regulation the final two days before the upcoming All-Star break, but couldn’t find a way to snap a pesky losing streak.

Jonathan Toews scored the first goal in the shootout and Patrick Kane netted the game-winner, leading the Chicago Blackhawks past the Pittsburgh Penguins, 3-2, during a nationally-televised game Wednesday at Consol Energy Center in Pittsburgh.

“I think it’s going to be nice to have some days to heal the body a little bit and come back fresh,” Penguins’ goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury said. “So many guys are banged up and some guys are coming back, so it gives them time to skate and join us.”

Marian Hossa, with the Penguins on their first run to the Stanley Cup Finals in 2008, scored his 10th of the year and added an assist for the Blackhawks, who won in Pittsburgh for the first time since 2009. David Rundblad scored his third for Chicago, which won in consecutive nights.

“I thought we played smart tonight,” Toews said. “We played an offensive team that knows how to create chances and for the most part we were pretty good in our own end.”

Zach Sill scored his first NHL goal and Steve Downie his eighth of the season for the Penguins, who played without Evgeni Malkin and Kris Letang. They dropped their fourth straight overall and lost for the fourth time in six games against Chicago. They also lost four of their last five at home.

“Lately, we’ve had a bit of a rough time,” Fleury said. “Even though we lost, I thought we played better the last two games.”

Corey Crawford made 33 saves and stopped David Perron and Sidney Crosby in the shootout for his 18th win.

Fleury, with just three wins in his last 12 starts, made 24 saves. Toews and Kane both snapped quick wrist shots that beat Fleury along the ice.

“If it’s a shootout, we have great confidence and a goaltender that can make stops,” Toews said. “We have shooters that want to be in that situation.”

With the score knotted at 2, Perron missed an open net in the third period, while Fleury denied Toews on a one-timer from the top of the crease and again from the faceoff dot. Hossa eluded Fleury’s poke-check and nearly ended the game in overtime, but his try missed the net.

“It’s frustrating to have the game on my stick a couple times,” Perron said.

The Penguins have just four wins in their last 14 games. Their once-comfortable lead in the Metropolitan Division is long gone, shuffling them back into a tight race with the Islanders, Rangers and Capitals. Things appear to be turning around for the Penguins after workmanlike efforts on back-to-back nights.

“We need a game like this to show this is how we need to play on a nightly basis,” Penguins’ coach Mike Johnston said. “You want to feel like your game is moving in the right direction. Yesterday or the day before we didn’t and now we do.”

Chicago enjoyed a red-hot start to the season, winning 25 of its first 37 games, including a run of 19 victories in 25 contests, but the Blackhawks have cooled. Chicago has just five wins in 10 games since January 1, but the Blackhawks may be starting to build again. They enter the break on a two-game win streak after edging the Penguins in a shootout and routing Arizona a night earlier.

“Even when things aren’t going well, we’re good at taking responsibility for it and not dragging our feet and dwelling on what we’re not doing or what’s not going our way,” Toews said.

Letang missed Wednesday’s game after a fight-filled overtime loss Tuesday at Philadelphia, a game that featured a combined 93 penalty minutes between the teams. He took part in Wednesday morning’s optional skate, but didn’t play after a hit from behind from Philadelphia’s Zac Rinaldo – a hit likely to draw a suspension – knocked him from the game.

Malkin missed the previous meeting between the two teams last March with a foot injury and he was out again on Wednesday with an undisclosed ailment, a late scratch after taking pre-game warm-ups.

“(Malkin) was injured (in Philadelphia) and showed a lot of battle coming back in that game,” Johnston said. “Today, it was a matter of seeing if he could play and he couldn’t.”

Pittsburgh carried the play in the early portions of the game, but Chicago netted the first goal at 6:56 when Rundblad blasted a shot past Fleury from the point.

Hossa extended the lead with a power-play goal at 2:41 of the second, snapping a wrist shot that beat a screened Fleury to the blocker side.

Sill got it back less than three minutes later with his first career goal, a wrist shot from the top of the right circle that beat Crawford to the glove side.

Downie tied it at 12:22 of the second period. Marcel Goc crashed the net, looking for the rebound from Scott Harrington’s point shot, but Downie found the loose puck and flipped it over a downed Crawford.

It was a measure of confidence for the Penguins, rallying from a two-goal deficit, but it wasn’t enough to snap the current losing streak.

“There’s a lot of positives we can take,” Perron said. “It’s frustrating, but we’ll get four or five days off and regroup.”

NOTES: Wednesday’s game featured eight players, including the scratched Malkin, who were selected to be part of the league’s upcoming All-Star weekend in Columbus. … The Penguins’ sellout streak, which reached 360 on Tuesday, began against Chicago on Feb. 14, 2007. … Chicago’s last regulation win in Pittsburgh came in 1997. … Mark Arcobello recorded his first point as a Penguin.