Finishing up their back-t0-back contests versus the New Jersey Devils yesterday, the Pens failed to escape with two points once again.
Losing Saturday 3-1, Pittsburgh lost to New Jersey by the same score on Sunday.
After going down 3-0, the Pens were able to generate a little momentum with a James Neal power-play goal just seconds into the third period. But that’s all that would happen as Pittsburgh extended their losing streak to two.
Tomas Vokoun stopped 20 of 23 shots, but was unable to top his counterpart Johan Hedberg, who had 23 saves. On the year, Vokoun is now 3-2, with a 2.27 goals against average and a .918 save percentage.
David Clarkson was a big burden in Vokoun’s side yesterday. Scoring two goals, Clarkson penetrated what was a soft defensive showcasing by the Pens and revealed how Pittsburgh went back to their recent bad habits.
And although the amount of penalizations were drastically improved from Saturday’s game, Pittsburgh was back to their old ways of not playing consistent, gritty defense.
It seemed as though they got back to the insufficient, stationary defense that got them tossed from the playoffs last season. Something that they had to correct at the beginning of this year as well.
This may partially have to do with the fact that their top defensive pairing, Kris Letang and Matt Niskanen, are shelved at the time being with lower-body injuries. But it shouldn’t be an excuse.
The defense is the backbone of the team.
When the defense isn’t playing well, the team fails to feed off any sort of energy. Not saying their isn’t any energy being promoted, just saying that when the defense is at its best–the team is at its best.
The offensive struggles that have surfaced recently might have to do with Letang though.
With him being out, the Pens power-play now has to run through defenseman Paul Martin at the point. And Martin is a dramatic drop-off in terms of offensive ability.
When Letang is in, it’s very difficult for opposing teams to prevent the Pens from setting up the power-play and stopping it. His crafty skating talent allows Pittsburgh to effortlessly succeed in what they’re trying to accomplish.
Letang could return Wednesday versus the Ottawa Senators, but there’s no word, as he was put on IR yesterday–retroactive to last Tuesday.
Niskanen has been out a while as well, and there has yet to be any word on his status.
Pittsburgh’s next game is Wednesday in the CONSOL Energy Center against the Senators at 7 p.m.