MONTREAL (TNS) – When they are in sync, the Penguins play an intelligent, detail-oriented game.
And when they are not, they can play the way they did during a 4-0 loss to Montreal at the Bell Centre Tuesday.
There were bad decisions and sloppy execution, mental lapses and physical breakdowns in abundance.
Or in excess.
Exhibit A: Three times when the Canadiens were penalized, the Penguins countered with minors of their own in two, five, and 12 seconds.
The Penguins also had a perplexing inability to beat Montreal backup goalie Al Montoya, who has been pressed into service while starter Carey Price recovers from a flu-like ailment.
Of course, if he authors a few more shutouts, Montoya (36 saves) might get a goaltender controversy going in this town.
OK, maybe not.
The loss dropped the Penguins’ record to 2-1-1 and snapped a run of three consecutive victories at the Bell Center.
Their frustration was compounded when winger Conor Sheary and defenseman Kris Letang left the game because of apparent injuries. There was no immediate word on either.
Penguins coach Mike Sullivan made a surprise decision to start goalie Marc-Andre Fleury, who played in a 4-3 overtime loss to Colorado at home 24 hours earlier.
Sullivan rarely plays the same goalie on consecutive days, but said he did so on this occasion because “we’d like to give him the ball here and let him run with it.”
Regardless of who Sullivan opted to start, the Penguins appeared to catch a break when Price sat out his third game in a row.
He is widely regarded as the top goaltender in the NHL, and did nothing to harm his reputation while helping Canada win the World Cup tournament last month.
“When you have Carey in net, any mistakes you make, he cleans them up,” said Penguins goalie Mike Condon, who played for Montreal last season.
That was before he knew Montoya would have a good night on clean-up duty, of course.
The Penguins made a few ghastly mistakes on the first shift of the game, and paid for it with a goal by Montreal winger Max Pacioretty.
The Canadiens nearly scored just a few seconds after the opening faceoff, when there appeared to be miscommunication between Fleury and defenseman Brian Dumoulin, nearly leading to a Montreal goal.
The reprieve was short-lived, however, and triggered a sequence that culminated in Pacioretty beating Fleury from just above the left hash mark 23 seconds into the game to put Montreal in front to stay.
The Penguins, who had the only two power plays of the opening period, reached intermission with a 17-13 edge in shots. Montreal could have had more, but Penguins winger Tom Kuhnhackl blocked three shots, at least two of which caused him considerable pain.
Sheary left the game at 7:02 of the second period, after Montreal’s Alexander Radulov smacked him in the face with his stick.
Radulov was assessed a double-minor for high-sticking, but the Penguins negated half of that when Nick Bonino was penalized for using his hand on a faceoff and did very little constructive with the other half.
The best scoring chance while Radulov was in the box belonged to Montreal’s Paul Byron, who had a short-handed breakaway.
Fleury denied him, but was unable to stop David Desharnais, who was left unchecked at the front lip of the crease and converted a Pacioretty pass at 12:07 to make it 2-0.
Radulov snuffed any possibility of a Penguins comeback when he scored at 4:31 of the third, carrying the puck down the right side before cutting across the slot and beating Fleury from near the edge of the left circle and Desharnais struck again at 13:44.