“It’s like a sigh of relief,” he said. “You almost forget how to win.”
Tampa Bay has an NHL-low eight wins this season and its 25 points are the second-worst total in the league.
Smith won for the first time since beating the Nashville Predators on Nov. 21. The goalie, who had lost his three previous career starts against Pittsburgh, also blanked the Minnesota Wild this season in a 1-0 shootout loss Oct. 18.
Smith, who faced only seven shots after the first period, praised the effort of Tampa Bay’s defense.
“You can’t say enough about the way the guys played,” he said. “The defense was great. As a core, they played outstanding. The forwards were coming back and helping the defense out. In order for us to win, we have to have that full commitment from everybody.”
Penguins goalie Marc-Andre Fleury, who made his fourth consecutive start since returning from a groin injury, made 27 saves.
“Fleury deserved a lot better tonight,” said Penguins defenseman Ryan Whitney, who played his first game this season following offseason foot surgery. “He was really good. He kept us in it.”
Whitney said it was an embarrassing loss for the Penguins, who finished a stretch of four games in six days with a 2-2 record.
“You lose to the last-place team in the league at home,” he said. “It doesn’t get much worse than that.”
Pittsburgh, which had high expectations this season after losing to Detroit in last season’s Stanley Cup final, is 4-6-1 in December and three points ahead of Buffalo for seventh place in the Eastern Conference.
Penguins coach Michel Therrien was critical of his team’s effort.
“The schedule is pretty tough. We just played four games in six days. Those are excuses,” he said. “We don’t have the right attitude. We like to complain about each other on the bench and on the ice. They better wake up pretty quick. … I’m really disappointed with their work ethic and the concentration. Until they change their attitude, we are going to have the same results.”
Therrien wouldn’t elaborate and quickly ended a terse postgame news conference.
“If I had an hour, I could sit down,” he said. “But, I don’t have an hour. There are a lot of things I don’t like, a lot of things.”
Tampa Bay went ahead 1-0 on Pettinger’s goal, which came 5:15 into the second period. Seconds after Pittsburgh’s Petr Sykora missed on a breakaway chance, Pettinger scored off a one-time pass from behind the net from Szczechura.
Szczechura then put the Lightning ahead 2-0 with a power play goal 11:14 into the third period.
“It’s a great win going into Christmas break,” Szczechura said. “I think the whole team played well tonight. (Smith) played great back there. He made the saves when he had to. Offensively, we had some chances. Fortunately we buried some key chances, and it got us the win.”
Tampa Bay forward Ryan Malone was scoreless and drew two penalties in his first game against his former team.
Malone, a Pittsburgh native, scored 87 goals in four seasons with the Penguins before signing a 7-year, $31.5 million contract with the Lightning in June.
“I don’t live here anymore, so it was nice to see the city and really appreciate playing here and being part of a team and everything we had here,” he said. “I saw some of the guys before the game, so that made it a little easier than seeing them the first time on the ice.”
Tampa Bay’s roster has several Pittsburgh connections. Along with Malone, Recchi, Adam Hall and Gary Roberts, who is on injured reserved, all played for the Penguins last season. In addition, Lightning coach Rick Tocchet played for the Penguins for parts of three seasons and Jamie Heward was drafted by Pittsburgh in the first round in 1989. … Penguins D Kris Letang missed his first game this season after sustaining an undisclosed injury in Monday’s overtime win at Buffalo. … The Penguins sent down F Ryan Stone to Wilkes-Barre/Scranton of the American Hockey League. … The Penguins have won only one of their past seven home games against the Lightning.
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