One might have thought the injury-plagued Penguins would have been crushed after suffering their sixth straight loss – and first shutout of the season – at the hands of the rival Capitals on Wednesday.
But that wasn’t the vibe in the visitors’ dressing room. Instead, Coach Dan Bylsma and his players focused on the process, not the result. And a hard-fought, 1-0 defeat at Verizon Center, they said, was a sign of progress, particularly after absorbing a 5-1 loss to the Senators on home ice the previous night.
“This is a game where there was a lot that we earned,” Bylsma said. “We played hard, battled. Didn’t come up with a goal. Certainly getting shut out, losing a game 1-0, is not something we like. [But] we earned a lot tonight. We’re going to keep playing that way and we’ll get wins playing just like that.”
Added defenseman Brooks Orpik: “We showed up pretty well tonight. We’ve got to keep giving the same effort. When you’re losing games, or you’re on a losing streak, it seems like you’re hitting posts or missing open nets.”
Against the Capitals, though, Tomas Vokoun was the biggest reason the Penguins didn’t find the back of the net. The Washington netminder turned aside all 10 shots he faced in the third period, including two critical stops on Evgeni Malkin in the final minutes.
On the first, Malkin thought Vokoun had left the corner of the net open as he glided into the faceoff circle and took aim with about six minutes left to play. But when Malkin pulled the trigger, Vokoun launched himself forward and stopped the shot with his shoulder.
Then, with about two minutes to go, Vokoun thwarted Malkin with his pad from point-blank range. Malkin finished with a game-high six shots on net, despite facing the Capitals’ best defenders on virtually every shift.
“He certainly made a couple of huge stops,” Bylsma said of Vokoun. “The one on Malkin, it’s tough to see from the bench, but it looked like a real good opportunity. In a 1-0 game, obviously he’s a guy who shined pretty bright for them.”
Winger Pascal Dupuis agreed with his coach’s assessment.
“We were pretty confident we were going to win that one; we played a good goalie,” he said. “Obviously he was a big difference. We kept peppering him at the end of the game. We missed a couple of chances and he made some big saves.”
Bylsma’s only criticism, in fact, was that his team didn’t do enough to get a “dirty” goal, despite having a few opportunities. The Penguins have scored a measly six goals during their slide.
“When it comes to trying to find a goal, either the power play needs to come up with a goal or you have to get a dirty one,” Bylsma said. “There were a couple of dirty ones lying there in the crease and we weren’t able to find them.”
Before the game, the Penguins received some positive news regarding concussed captain Sidney Crosby, who has been sidelined since early December. Crosby joined the team for the three-game road trip and plans to resume skating on his own.
As happy as the Penguins were to see him, Orpik said they are under no illusions.
“I don’t think he’s anywhere close to coming back,” Orpik said. “We can’t really wait for him. The guys who are going pull us out of this aren’t Sid or [concussed defenseman Kris] Letang. It’s the guys who are in this room. Obviously, you’d love to have those guys in the lineup. But that can’t be our attitude right now. We can’t wait for those guys.”
Still, the Penguins departed for Florida encouraged – but also knowing their margin for error has been just about used up. The Capitals leapfrogged them in the standings and now occupy the eighth spot in the Eastern Conference, both teams knotted with 46 points but Washington having played one fewer game.
“We did the right things tonight,” winger James Neal said. “It’s tough to keep [talking] about what we need to do better. We just need to get a win. That’s the bottom line.”