PITTSBURGH -- For the first time in a season in which rookie Sidney Crosby has exceeded all expectations and his Pittsburgh Penguins have met none of theirs, Crosby is questioning his teammates' lack of effort.
Marian Gaborik stole the puck from forward Shane Endicott and scored barely a minute into the game, setting the tone for the Minnesota Wild's 5-0 rout Thursday night that ran the Penguins' losing streak to six games in their latest contest without Mario Lemieux.
Alexandre Daigle, a former Penguins player, ended a 14-game stretch without a goal by scoring twice and Wes Walz and Brian Rolston also scored for the Wild, which had lost four in a row and five of six.
After such a poor effort against a slumping opponent, longtime scoring star Mark Recchi said it might have been "the low point of my career." Crosby, whose career is nearly 20 years shorter than Recchi's, obviously agreed.
"I don't know if the effort was there," Crosby said, speaking in a normal voice without anger or disgust. "NHL teams, they've got to find a way to be prepared for an opponent. They've got a good team and a good system over there, but that doesn't make it any better."
Crosby was the only Penguins player who showed much jump in the first two periods, but went scoreless for the fourth time in five games despite having 29 points in 28 games.
"There's no excuse at all," Crosby said. "It's effort. It's moving your feet, it's making hits. You keep it simple, but when you do you create bounces -- you make your own bounces."
Previously, Crosby said, the Penguins were getting good scoring chances but not converting them. This game, this lack of effort and execution and emotion, was different.
"You can't give up," Crosby said. "You've got to keep battling to the end. Winning is a habit. You can't accept losing. Losing is a bad habit to accept."
Penguins coach Eddie Olczyk, booed loudly at home for the first time this season, seemed discouraged by the latest bad defeat by a team that was supposed to be much improved but is tied for last place in the Eastern Conference.
Not only were the Penguins outshot 17-5 in the first period, they didn't draw a single penalty in losing their 21st in 28 games, counting six overtime or shootout losses. They had only 11 shots through two periods, a remarkably low total for a team that includes proven scorers such as John LeClair and Recchi, plus Crosby.
"The execution wasn't there," Olczyk said. "This is the last thing we saw coming. ... This is the toughest game of the season."
The Penguins seemingly should have gotten an emotional lift from the news that owner-captain Lemieux's heart scare apparently wasn't life-threatening. Lemieux was hospitalized Wednesday with a racing heartbeat, but was released Thursday after being diagnosed with atrial fibrillation, a condition commonly treated with medication.
Asked if the Penguins missed Lemieux's leadership, Olczyk said, "Leadership had nothing to do with the way we played. If you want to blame leadership, then you can blame me."
With goalie Marc-Andre Fleury held out with an intestinal problem, Jocelyn Thibault (1-8-2) made his first start in net since the Penguins tried to send him to the minors, then cleared him through waivers last week. He didn't play badly in the first period despite the Wild's big advantage in shots, but had no chance on Gaborik's goal following Endicott's giveaway.
"I was trying to forecheck and I jumped in and took the puck and deked the guy and it went in," Gaborik said. "It worked out pretty good right from the beginning."
Wild goalie Manny Fernandez made 22 saves to improve to 8-3-3 with his first shutout since March 18, 2004, at Boston.
"We kept on a lot of pressure on them and restricted their chances," Fernandez said. "Sometimes they were so happy to get a shot in front of the net that they would rush their shots. I think we did everything we wanted to."
|The sign says it all for Penguins fans. Pittsburgh has lost six straight and 21 of 28 games. (AP)|
|Minnesota (11-12-4) «||1||2||2||5|
|01:04||Marian Gaborik (5), Backhand Shot - Unassisted.|
|04:32||Alexandre Daigle (2), Slap Shot - Assists: Kyle Wanvig and Andrei Zyuzin|
|07:24||Wes Walz (4), Tip-In - Assists: Marian Gaborik and Kurtis Foster|
|02:04||Brian Rolston (11), Backhand Shot - Assists: Todd White and Pierre-Marc Bouchard|
|14:47||Power Play - Alexandre Daigle (3), Slap Shot - Assists: Andrei Zyuzin and Brian Rolston|
|08:08||Melichar: Tripping - 2 min.|
|14:01||Tarnstrom: Tripping - 2 min.|
|17:53||Henry: Fighting - 5 min.|
|17:53||VandenBussche: Fighting - 5 min.|
|18:45||Crosby: Delay of Game - 2 min.|
|09:49||Christensen: Unsportsmanlike Conduct - 2 min.|
|09:49||Christensen: Game Misconduct - 10 min.|
|14:01||Orpik: Boarding - 2 min.|
|16:25||Orpik: Fighting - 5 min.|
|16:25||Wanvig: Fighting - 5 min.|
|16:25||Wanvig: Instigator - 2 min.|
|16:25||Wanvig: Game Misconduct - 10 min.|
|SHOTS ON GOAL|
|Attendance - 14627|
|Game Time - 60:00|
|Referees - Shane Heyer, Dan O'Rourke|
|Line Judges - Pat Dapuzzo, Scott Driscoll|