No one said hockey was fair.
“It’s tough,” said Penguins goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury. “You play 60, 65 minutes and the game is decided on breakaways. When you win, it’s fun. When you lose, it sucks.”
Fleury knows the pain of his goaltending brother, Craig Anderson, who felt he let his Senators team down after a trio named James Neal, Evgeni Malkin and Sidney Crosby dinged him in the shootout. The Senators had a pair themselves, from Jason Spezza and Kyle Turris, but it wasn’t enough.
The Senators got their point, which was fitting in this game of survival, the home team trying to get by without its captain, Daniel Alfredsson, out with the flu, while the Penguins lost defenceman Matt Niskanen in the first period and had to play with five D the rest of the evening.
By late in the third period of a game that was by turns exciting and horrendously sloppy, both teams were playing for the single point; in the end, the Penguins left town with the extra one, based on a skills competition.
Everything seems just a bit of out of sync so far in this shortened season, even the run-and-gun games between Ottawa and Pittsburgh
The last time Sid Crosby and the boys were in town, they thought they could play Rideau Canal shinny against the Senators, trade chances rush for rush. In late March of 2012, that didn’t turn out badly for Ottawa, winners of an 8-4 slugfest at Scotiabank Place, which left the visitors shaking their heads.
The Senators also beat the Penguins by scores of 5-1 and 6-4 after opening the season series with a 6-3 loss in Pittsburgh.
So, to be tied 1-1 after 40 minutes, and after 65 on Sunday, was off the radar screen for these two.
“It’s still a work in progress,” Crosby said about his team’s slowly awakening offensive juggernaut. “The power play has to be a lot better. We get as many chances as we did tonight (0-5), that’s not really acceptable. We didn’t generate enough.”
Against Pittsburgh, the Senators knew they would have to defend well, but there was no defence against the quick release from Neal to open the scoring. It was a team-leading fourth for Neal, a 40-goal man last season.
Colin Greening, upgraded from third line duty due to the missing Alfredsson, got that goal back in the second period. Wisely, Greening trailed Spezza to the net, then pulled the puck on Marc Andre Fleury and tucked it behind him.
That goal turned the game more cautious, until midway through the third period when both teams finally opened up play to the delight of a full house.
Erik Karlsson deposited one on the goal line . . . Malkin rang one off the post . . . still nothing until the shootout.
Like the Senators, the Penguins are trying to find their form in a hurry. Ottawa was at its blue-collar best against Florida (times two) and Winnipeg, but got off their game while trying to hit more home runs than Tampa Bay on Friday.
That was a rough entry to the season for backup goalie Ben Bishop, but he will get other starts, and he will get more help than he did Friday.
As for the Penguins, they cited lack of interest behind losses to the Jets and the Toronto Maple Leafs – admitting they didn’t get up for those games after playing their hated rivals from Philadelphia and New York.
That’s something else teams can’t afford in a half-miler season. Players picking their spots.
Welcome to the coach’s nightmare, an injury-plagued, games-laden trip to who-knows-where. Penguins head coach Dan Bylsma told me he feels like he’s coaching “tournament” hockey.
“The biggest challenge is how few opportunities to practice you have,” Bylsma said. “A very short training camp and then very little practice time, where you can really work on things.
“It almost feels like a tournament, you play a lot of games and very few practices intermittent. You really have to make adjustments on the fly, and there are fluctuations in teams’ games as a result of it.”
Bylsma laments that even if they had their usual training camp and exhibition season, players aren’t used to playing this much, this early. As it is, some who didn’t play during the lockout are trying to play themselves into game shape.
No excuses, though, Crosby said.
“We still feel like we have guys out there that can make plays, even with the short season. It’s something to work on, it’s like that for everyone . . . we still have those high expectations.”
Even in a regular 82-game season, early season losses are magnified, says Bylsma, “but it’s even more so in a short season. You could go 3-1 and now you’re 2-2 and it’s a big swing . . . it (sense of urgency) is heightened.”
On balance, not a bad start for the Senators, now 3-1-1, while the Penguins can draw a breath after jumping back over .500 at 3-2-0.
Lots of racetrack ahead for a couple of teams that wanted to avoid a Sunday afternoon track meet in Ottawa.