PITTSBURGH (AP)—The Pittsburgh Penguins knew it might be grim during this rebuilding season, especially after Mario Lemieux was injured. Not even they guessed it might get record-setting, all-time-worst bad.
The Penguins, owners of a league-worst 11-36-5-3 record, will take two losing streaks into their weeklong All-Star break. They have lost 10 straight at home, putting them in position to tie the league record of 11—held by four clubs—next Tuesday against Boston.
No wonder coach Eddie Olczyk is running out of patience, even with a young team that has few proven goal scorers or skilled defensemen. He’s taking a weekend trip to watch the Penguins’ top farm team and may return with a few new players.
“If you see four or five guys who deserve to come up, maybe that will be the case. We have guys here who have plenty enough chances,” he said.
What the Penguins don’t have are many victories. They haven’t won at any venue since a 2-1 victory in Philadelphia on Jan. 12 or at Mellon Arena since beating Chicago 1-0 on Dec. 29. The 11-game overall losing streak ties that set from Jan. 22-Feb. 10, 1983.
Olczyk was especially angry the Penguins trailed 2-0 barely two minutes into the game against the same team that embarrassed them 8-0 on Jan. 10 in Pittsburgh.
“Our preparation, or the lack of it, was not acceptable,” he said.
The Penguins rallied to take a 3-2 lead on goals by Steve Begin and Mike Ribeiro, with Eric Meloche, Konstantin Koltsov and Rico Fata scoring in succession to give them a rare home lead. The Penguins have been outscored 49-14 during their home losing streak.
Koltsov and Fata scored with a man advantage—also an uncommon occurrence for the league’s worst home power-play unit. The Penguins were 12-for-116 on the power play at home before scoring on two of their first three chances.
But the Canadiens, who scored on their first two shots, shook off their midgame lapse to win for only the third time in seven games. Backup goalie Mathieu Garon made 32 saves for his second straight win.
“After (it was 2-0), we kind of got in a comfort zone and started trying to make plays and be fancy,” defenseman Stephane Quintal said. “But I thought we played well in the third, stayed composed and played some good defensive hockey.”
After Fata gave Pittsburgh its only lead at 3-2 with his first goal since Jan. 1, a 16-game span, Koivu tied it midway through the second period with Meloche off for tripping. With Penguins goalie Sebastien Caron occupied with Richard Zednik in front of the net, Koivu swept in to tip Andrei Markov’s shot from the point just after it deflected off Zednik.
Sundstrom scored what proved to be the decisive goal with just over four minutes left in the period, sweeping the puck past Caron off a long rebound. Caron was in net for three of the Penguins’ four losses to Montreal this season.
“We were aware we were going to have a tough game and they played well, they came at us hard,” coach Claude Julien said. “If it wasn’t for the quick lead we got, it might have been a different outcome.”
Montreal’s Sheldon Souray, who had a club-record six points by a defenseman (one goal, five assists) in the 8-0 game, assisted on Begin’s goal 30 seconds into the game. But he was given a game misconduct following a mid-ice fight involving Pittsburgh’s Dan Focht midway through the first period.
Souray was tossed when the officials detected his jersey wasn’t properly tied down—a rule the league began enforcing a couple of years ago so players couldn’t quickly shed their gear during fights.
“It’s the referee’s decision and you don’t have a choice,” Julien said. “You’ve got to respect that and there’s nothing you can do after it’s called.”
Losing Souray could have been big for Montreal; he has 10 of his 34 points against the Penguins. He went scoreless in nine straight games after his career-best game in Pittsburgh, but now has a goal and an assist in his lasttwo games.
Montreal swept the four-game season series from the Penguins for the second time in three seasons, outscoring them 20-5. … Atlanta (1999-2000 season) was the last NHL team to lose 11 straight at home. … The Penguins played without leading goal scorer Ryan Malone, who became sick after the morning skate. … Montreal has 10 goals in its last two games after scoringonly five in its previous five.