Penguins look hesitant, tight, disorganized in opener

OTTAWA -- Ring, ring, ring.

Attention Sidney Crosby, Jordan Staal, Evgeni Malkin, Ryan Whitney, et al, school is now in session.

Lesson 1: These are the playoffs.

Lesson 2: Play like you did Wednesday night in a 6-3 humbling at the hands of the Ottawa Senators, and this course will be frightfully short.

"We didn't bring our best," said Crosby, the youngest scoring champ around whom so much revolves for this Penguins team. "I think we can look at ourselves and say if we threw everything at them and this was the result, then I think we'd be questioning ourselves.

"But we have a lot more to show. For a lot of us, it was our first game. We're not going to use that as excuse, but I feel we did try to feel it a little bit too much."

There has been such a focus on the Penguins' inexperience in the days leading up to the start of the series, one wondered if it might have all been a little overstated heading into Game 1.

It wasn't.

For long stretches of the game, the Penguins looked hesitant, tight, disorganized. This was especially true in the first period, when the Senators came out with purpose, forechecking voraciously, hitting everything that moved, forcing turnovers and ultimately opening up a 2-0 lead by the 6:38 mark.

"In the end, I think we were a little nervous," admitted forward Erik Christensen. "I know I was. It's nice to get that first one out of the way for a lot of us."

In all, 16 players on the Penguins roster had never played in an NHL playoff contest. So, who could blame them for being a bit gape-mouthed and flat-footed?

"I don't think we weren't ready," Crosby said. "I think we caught watching a little bit. Instead of going out there and trying to set the tone ourselves, I think we tried to kind of go out there and feel things out, and when you do that, you get caught watching sometimes."

When the Senators squandered two long 5-on-3 opportunities in the first period, one wondered if the Penguins, who were one of the best come-from-behind teams in the NHL during the regular season, would make them pay. But the Senators kept coming and the Penguins stood by and watched.

Getting outstanding performances from their energy line of Chris Neil, Chris Kelly and Antoine Vermette, the Senators blew the game wide open by scoring three times in the first 8:22 of the third period. The hard-working unit finished the night with two goals and an assist, matching the production of Crosby, Malkin and Staal.

When it was all over, Crosby scored a late power-play goal to make it 6-3. He had three shots, but none in the first period when the Senators outshot the Penguins 16-4. Malkin, a sure bet to win the Calder Trophy as rookie of the year, had an assist and zero shots on goal. Staal scored the Penguins' first goal and had three shots. Whitney had an assist, but suffered through a ghastly night in his own zone, finishing minus-2.

"It wasn't a matter of being overwhelmed," Whitney said. "They brought more energy at the beginning. I'm sure we will be better."

The Penguins' defense, identified by many as a flaw that could be exposed by the Senators, looked especially ill-prepared for the higher tempo and intensity of the playoffs. Coach Michel Therrien said he thought his Penguins might be in for a long night from the second shift.

"I didn't feel our team was tight, but I guess they were," Therrien said. "That was probably one of our worst performances of the year. Our focus was not there. Our execution was not there."

This is but one game, of course.

It is the appetizer with the main course to come. And the Penguins have shown all season they are a resilient bunch, not fading in the latter stages of the painfully long regular season in spite of their youth. And sometimes getting schooled as they did Wednesday night by a very good Ottawa Senators team reinforces the lesson more than a less embarrassing loss.

Near the end of the game, Christensen said he looked around and had a sense of déjà vu from a couple of years back. The Penguins' farm team from Wilkes-Barre dropped the first two games of a playoff series against the Senators' farm team from Binghamton.
Many of the players from that series are at work in this series.

So, how did that one turn out? The baby Penguins bounced back from a couple of bad outings to dump the favored baby Senators in six games, winning four straight.

Class dismissed.

Scott Burnside is the NHL writer for ESPN.com.