The Pittsburgh Penguins have talked a lot about how important it is to be consistent, but the plain truth is that they actually have been through the first six games of this season.
Consider their 4-1 loss to Dallas at PPG Paints Arena Tuesday evening.
They failed to hold a lead. Again.
Had a game get away from them in the second period. Again.
Were unable to score on the power play. Again.
So, yeah, they’ve been pretty consistent during the first 15 days of the 2023-24 season.
The only difference this time was that they lost to a team that qualified for the Stanley Cup playoffs last spring.
The defeat was the Penguins’ third in a row and dropped their record to 2-4.
And they lost more than just a couple of points this time.
Physical defenseman John Ludvig, who was acquired from Florida on waivers Oct. 9, made his NHL debut, but left midway through the second period after delivering a huge hit on Dallas forward Radek Faksa in the neutral zone.
Ludvig appeared to be knocked unconscious by the contact and was helped off the ice by a couple of teammates.
“Unfortunately, hockey’s a physical game,” Bryan Rust said. “Those things do happen sometimes.”
Mike Sullivan labeled the incident “scary.”
There was no immediate word on the nature or severity of Ludvig’s injury, although he presumably was at least being checked for a concussion. Sullivan said he still was being evaluated after the game.
While he was in the game, Ludvig partnered with Ryan Shea, who played in a game at this level for the first time Saturday in St. Louis. Ludvig was credited with one shot and two hits in five minutes, 29 seconds of ice time.
The Penguins and Stars started as if both had plans for later in the evening; play flowed from one end to the other and there were only three stoppages during the first 9 1/2 minutes of the opening period.
The next-to-last of the 15 stoppages during the period came with 37.9 seconds to go before the intermission, when Rust put the Pittsburgh Penguins in front, 1-0, with his fifth of the season.
Rust charged down the slot and flipped a feed from Jake Guentzel, who had carried the puck into the left circle, past Stars goalie Jake Oettinger on the 16th of the Penguins’ 18 shots. Sidney Crosby picked up the second assist.
The Penguins got their second power play of the period with 6.3 seconds left, as Guentzel was tripped by Dallas center Wyatt Johnston.
Johnston had hooked Ryan Graves at 10:06 to give the Penguins their first chance with the extra man. Although they moved the puck around pretty well, they failed to get either of their two shots past Oettinger.
Rust had their best chance about a minute into that power play, but Oettinger stopped his shot from inside the left circle.
“We could have scored more than we did (in the first period),” Sullivan said.
Dallas got its first opportunity with the extra man when Guentzel was sent off for interference at 4:37 of the second.
The Stars were unable to capitalize on that, but Jason Robertson pulled them even at 7:37, beating Penguins goalie Alex Nedeljkovic, who made his second start of the season, with a backhander from the right side of the crease.
With Ludvig gone, the Penguins were down to five defensemen, and Evgenii Dadonov put Dallas on front at 16:03, fending off Rickard Rakell before pushing a puck across the goal line from the right side of the crease.
The Penguins have been outscored, 8-0, in the second period of their past four games.
“I’m not sure why (that’s happening), but we have to be better there, coming in after the first period with the lead,” Rust said. “Going into the second period, we have to try to keep our foot on the gas. … It’s been happening way too often.”
Defenseman Thomas Harley scored the Stars’ third goal at 5:22 of the third, beating Nedeljkovic from the slot.
The Penguins had a chance to cut into Dallas’ lead when Stars forward Craig Smith was penalized for holding at 9:35, but failed to take advantage of that power play. They are 2-for-16 with the man-advantage this season.
Johnston removed any doubt about the outcome by jamming a shot into the net during a scrum in the crease at 13:51.
The Pittsburgh Penguins are scheduled to practice Wednesday at noon at PPG Paints Arena. That workout will be closed to the public.