NEW YORK — Consistency is something for which every team strives, something most coaches will tell you is a key to success.
Except when it isn’t.
Like when it actually is a key to convincing the coach to buy antacids by the pallet. Like when his players make a habit of spotting opponents a multi-goal lead in every game. Like when they fail to score on the power play for weeks at a time.
And so it is for the Penguins, whose 3-2 overtime loss to the Rangers Tuesday night at Madison Square Garden was the payoff for their inability to break a few bad habits, even though they did manage to score with a man-advantage for the first time in 12 games.
The most obvious was falling behind by multiple goals, which they did for the fourth consecutive game. They had wiped out those deficits in each of the previous three — and actually rallied to win the previous two — and did so yet again, thanks to second-period goals by Justin Schultz and Jared McCann.
“I give our guys a lot of credit for fighting back,” Mike Sullivan said. “But it’s hard to play if you’re in a two-goal deficit. It’s hard to climb out of that. We climbed out of it tonight, but for me, the lesson learned is that we’ve got to play a full 60.”
Or, in this case, 62-plus, since New York’s rookie winger, Kaapo Kakko, the No. 2 overall pick in the summer’s NHL Draft, steered in a feed from defenseman Adam Fox, another rookie, at 2:24 of overtime for the game-winner.
Then again, overtime might not have been necessary if the Penguins had been more than casually interested observers for most of the first 20 minutes.
“We weren’t ready to play,” Sullivan said. “They were ready to play. They outplayed us in the first period.”
And, predictably, New York outscored the Penguins then, too, as Kakko and Fox got pucks past Matt Murray.
“The game just got away from us in the first period,” Murray said.
Well, not completely, but that had a lot more to do with Murray than the 18 guys in front of him. The Rangers’ 11-8 advantage in shots was relatively modest, but Murray snuffed a number of quality scoring chances that could have effectively ended the game before the intermission.
“Without Murray, the game would have been out of control,” McCann said.
The Penguins regained their equilibrium between periods and, after Schultz pulled them within one just 73 seconds into the second period, McCann then made it 2-2 with a power-play goal — turns out there’s no bylaw against the Penguins scoring one of those, after all — at 12:33.
His goal ended a run of 28 consecutive fruitless opportunities, a slump that actually felt as if it lasted longer than some of the great dynasties of ancient Egypt.
“I was happy for the players, because I know they want to score,” Sullivan said. “It’s been a little bit of a struggle.”
Yeah, just a little bit. Kind of like how Mt. Everest is a little bit of a hill.
Coincidentally enough, the Penguins finally got a man-advantage goal in their first game without Sidney Crosby, who sustained a lower-body injury against the Blackhawks Saturday. What they couldn’t get was a victory, but there’s nothing new about that; they are 0-4-2 in the past half-dozen regular-season games he has missed.
There is no upside to being without Crosby, of course, but there were some positives that could be extracted from this defeat. Not that there were any lingering questions about the Penguins’ resilience, but had there been, they would have been addressed.
And their penalty-killing was perfect again, not allowing a goal for the seventh game in a row.
“There was some good, and there was some not-so-good,” Sullivan said.
The worst, of course, was having to rebound from yet another deficit. While Sullivan correctly noted that the Penguins’ penchant for falling behind isn’t always an accurate reflection of how a particular game is playing out, it certainly was this time.
“We deserved one point, for sure,” Evgeni Malkin said. “But we need to play better in the first period in the next game, for sure.”
If only to give themselves the opportunity to do something really outrageous. You know, like play with a lead.
“We can’t keep having starts like this,” McCann said. “We know that. For a lot of us, it’s frustrating, and we have to fix it.”
• Alex Galchenyuk does not have a goal in his first nine games with the Penguins. “I just think he’s got to be more focused on playing the game the right way,” Sullivan said. “Competing on pucks, winning puck battles, being strong on the (boards), all the details of the game. If a goal-scorer struggles, just based on my experience, part of (the solution) is taking the focus off the scoring and just trying to focus on what you can control — that’s how you play the game, how you think the game, how hard you compete on pucks. Just being focused on that next play, and then I think goals will come.”
• Fox finished the evening with two points in a strong performance that did not surprise Penguins defenseman John Marino, his teammate at Harvard. “Obviously, he’s a great player,” Marino said. “I played with him for three years and kind of expect him to make those plays.”
• The Penguins are 97-54-21 in regular-season games that Crosby misses, 42-34-10 in away games.
• Teddy Blueger accounted for eight of the Penguins’ 37 hits.
• Malkin had another strong night on faceoffs, winning 10 of 14.
• Artemi Panarin’s assist on the Fox goal that gave New York a 2-0 lead extended his scoring streak to nine games.
• Sidney Crosby (unspecified lower-body)
• Patric Hornqvist (unspecified lower-body) is on injured reserve
• Kris Letang (unspecified lower-body)
Sullivan’s lines and pairings:
Dominik Simon — Evgeni Malkin — Bryan Rust
Alex Galchenyuk — Jared McCann — Jake Guentzel
Dominik Kahun — Nick Bjugstad — Sam Lafferty
Zach Aston-Reese — Teddy Blueger — Brandon Tanev
Brian Dumoulin — John Marino
Marcus Pettersson — Justin Schultz
Jack Johnson — Juuso Riikola
And for David Quinn’s Rangers:
Artemi Panarin — Ryan Strome — Jesper Fast
Chris Kreider — Filip Chytil — Pavel Buchnevich
Brendan Lemieux — Brett Howden — Kaapo Kakko
Greg McKegg — Lias Andersson — Brendan Smith
Libor Hajek — Jacob Trouba
Brady Skjei — Anthony DeAngelo
Ryan Lindgren — Adam Fox
The Penguins have canceled Wednesday’s practice, but will work out Thursday at 1:45 p.m. in Newark, N.J. They will face the Devils Friday at 7:08 p.m. at the Prudential Center.
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