By Dan Scifo
From the Point Contributor
PITTSBURGH – The Pittsburgh Penguins are searching for confidence, momentum and anything else they can find that will help them crawl out of a messy 0-3 hole to start the season.
The Penguins doubled their scoring output from a disappointing two-game road trip to start the season, but it still resulted in a loss as Tomas Fleischmann managed a third-period goal, helping Montreal defeat Pittsburgh, 3-2, during the home opener Tuesday night at Consol Energy Center.
“Nobody likes to lose,” Penguins’ captain Sidney Crosby said. “We definitely have to find ways to be better. I thought we did a better job giving ourselves a chance, but there are still areas we can improve on.”
Fleischmann broke a 2-2 tie, putting the Canadiens ahead a little more than five minutes into the third.
The goal came after a Penguins’ turnover at the Montreal blueline as Pittsburgh looked for a penalty, while Fleischmann went the other way and snuck a shot past goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury inside the near post for his first of the season and 12th goal in 27 games against Pittsburgh.
“We’re better than this,” said Fleury, who made 27 saves. “It’s disappointing. It’s still early, but we have to get after it.”
Max Pacioretty netted his third and fourth of the season as the Canadiens, for the fourth straight game, had a player score two goals, helping Montreal complete a season-opening road trip with a perfect 4-0 record.
Montreal won three straight to start the season last year, but haven’t taken four in a row since 1977-78, en route to the team’s third of four consecutive Stanley Cups.
It’s a different story for the Penguins, who lost their first three games for the first time since the 2005-06 season. They are without a point in the first three games since the beginning of the 2001-02 season when the Penguins opened with four straight losses.
“We’re disappointed,” Penguins’ defenseman Ben Lovejoy said. “We have high hopes, still, but we’re not nearly where we need to be.
“It’s early in the season and we need to correct this very quickly.”
The Penguins’ three goals in three games is the team’s worst start since scoring four in three during the 2003-04 season.
The Penguins struggled with a pair of season-opening losses at Dallas and Arizona, managing one goal from newly-acquired three-time All-Star Phil Kessel in two games, but they made progress on Tuesday.
Beau Bennett and Kris Letang each notched their first goals of the season and Crosby recorded his first four shots of the year, a point of contention after the Penguins’ captain didn’t have a shot in consecutive games for the first time in almost five years.
His best chance came with 2:17 remaining in the third period and the Penguins trailing by a goal, but Canadiens’ goaltender Carey Price denied Crosby, managing to make a glove save while on his stomach. Price finished with 31 saves.
“You have to find ways when you’re 0-3 because if your desperation and urgency isn’t there, then there’s a problem,” Crosby said. “In the third period, they found another level. We had our fair share of chances, but we didn’t quite get to that level.”
Montreal opened the scoring less than six minutes into the game when Pacioretty, trailing during a rush, put a center-point shot behind a screened Fleury.
The Penguins trudged through the opening period with just four shots, but they upped the tempo in the second. That led to the team’s second goal of the season, scored by Bennett.
A blocked shot in the defensive zone ricocheted to Bennett at the blue line. Bennett, streaking down the right wing, blistered a wrist shot behind Price to the stick side, tying the game.
Montreal re-gained the lead a little more than three minutes later with its second power-play goal of the season and first in nine chances. Pacioretty netted his second of the game with a hard wrister that beat Fleury to the glove side.
The Penguins answered less than two minutes later as the teams combined for three goals in fewer than five minutes. Kessel, from behind the goal-line in the left corner, found Letang at the right point, and he swept a wrist shot over the shoulder of Price.
A third-period goal proved to be the difference, sending the Penguins to their third straight defeat and an 0-3 hole to begin the season.
“You want to play well and get some confidence, knowing that we can win and come back in games,” Fleury said. “We haven’t done that, so it’s tough. It’s frustrating, but we have to find a way out of it as soon as possible.”
NOTES: The Penguins have lost 13 of their last 21 regular-season home games, including six of the last eight. … The Penguins are 25-14-9 all-time in home openers and 3-3 at Consol Energy Center. … Evgeni Malkin hasn’t scored a goal in his last 18 games played.