Observations from the Penguins' 3-0 loss to the Devils.
We knew these Penguins were always lurking around. Even with their recent six-game winning streak, a flat, incomplete effort was still in their repertoire. Sure, they routed the powerful Capitals, 6-2, Sunday. But this was still largely the same team which fumbled their way to a 4-2 loss to the poor Flames March 5, not even three weeks ago.
Some of the numbers reflect well for the Penguins in this game. They launched 39 shots on net but for the most part, very few of those chances were all that challenging.
This was an incomplete and sloppy game by the Penguins. Their effort was there but the execution was lacking severely. A game like this really makes you doubt their credentials as a playoff team.
This should have been an easy two points given the lack of NHL-caliber talent the Devils dressed tonight. Instead, it's an ugly loss and it amplifies the importance of this weekend's games against the Red Wings Saturday and Rangers Sunday.
The Devils needed all of 26 seconds to take a lead. After center Sidney Crosby forced a pass off the Devils' right half wall and turned the puck over, Devils center Travis Zajac played the puck from his own high slot to center Kyle Palmieri streaking up the left wing. Palmieri got behind defenseman Olli Maatta and ripped a wrister which squeaked under goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury's glove hand on the far side and trickled into the net. Assists went to Zajac and center Reid Boucher.
They made it a 2-0 game at the 13:08 mark. After right winger Beau Bennett took a hooking minor against former Penguins defenseman David Warsofsky, the Devils converted it into a goal eight seconds into the ensuing power play. Off the faceoff in the Penguins' right circle, Devils defenseman Damon Severson fed a pass from the right point to Palmieri in the left circle. Palmieri uncorked a one-timer which blew by Fleury's glove hand and clunked into the net off the cross bar on the far side. Severson and Boucher had assists.
After a scoreless second period, the Devils secured the win with 10:03 left in he third. With defenseman Brian Dumoulin pinching in, the Devils were able to create an odd-man rush. From the left wing, center Adam Henrique approached he net and ripped a laser of a wrister from the left circle past Fleury's glove hand on the far side. Severson and right winger Devante Smith-Pelly had assists.
-Even if general Ray Shero is running the Devils these days, these are still Lou Lamoriello's Devils. They play tight, defensive hockey and try to lockdown games when they have a lead. Former Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins coach John Hynes is no stranger to defense himself and given the limitations of this roster, he had his team stack things up in its zone and make it difficult for the Penguins to generate shots from in tight. These are the same Devils no matter who is in he lineup or behind the bench.
-The Penguins were able to cobble together a six-game winning streak despite a comatose power play. Tonight, their special teams hurt them. We could call the Penguins' power play tonight "bad" but "bad" isn't a four-letter word. After generating a few things Sunday against the Capitals, it took a step backwards tonight. They had issues even gaining the zone let along establishing anything resembling structure. For the most part, the varsity power-play squad was composed of Crosby in the right circle, center Nick Bonino in the slot, right winger Patric Hornqvist in front of the net, right winger Phil Kessel in he left circle and defenseman Kris Letang at center point. Rarely did that group put together more than a handful of passes. The Devils' penalty killers pressured them and they just seemed to panic.
-Conversely, the Devils carved up the Penguins on one of their power play chances and went 1 for 3 with the man advantage.
-The version of Nick Bonino who has struggled most of the season re-appeared tonight. He contributed to the Penguins' six game winning streak with some solid offensive play. Tonight, his play was flat out offensive (Cute play on words, huh?). He was beaten cleanly on a defensive zone faceoff, one of his strengths, on a play which led to Palmieri's power-play goal. And he just didn't seem comfortable on the top power-play unit.
-After the first intermission, head coach Mike Sullivan switched things up a bit by moving Kunitz to the second line and left winger Carl Hagelin to the first line. If that switch generated anything positive, it wasn't evident to us.
-Bennett returned to the lineup after being sidelined 26 games due to a right shoulder injury. He seemed fine but it would be a stretch to say he had any notable impact in the game. His minutes were limited in order to ease him back to the lineup as well as the fact the Penguins were trailing for virtually the entire game. Bennett logged 5:30 of ice time on 12 shifts and had two shots.
We're not sure this was Fleury's best game. All three goals were past his glove hand and all three were somewhat preventable. That said, we can't say goaltending would have made a significant difference in the Penguins' overall play.
-Devils rookie goaltender Scott Wedgewood was really tuned in. He either absorbed pucks easily or kicked out a lot of safe rebounds. He looked like a five-year veteran with some of he poise he displayed. The Penguins had a few quality chances, including a three-on-rush rush which he prevent Crosby from scoring on. Yes, the Penguins made his night easy with some low percentage shots. At the same time, he looked like he knew he was going to win this game.
-One of the shames in the Devils' rotten season is that it overshadows how wonderfully Palmieri has played in his first season with the Devils. A first-round pick of the Ducks in 2009, he never really got a chance to log top minutes behind all-stars like Ryan Getzlaf and Corey Perry. In New Jersey, he's their biggest offensive catalyst and he's on the verge of a 30-goal season. He showed off some wonderful scoring touch tonight.
-Ditto Henrique. He's closing in on 30 goals as well and scored his 27th tonight. It was a beauty.
-The Devils had 10 players missing from the lineup tonight due to injuries and they still managed to adhere to their game plan.
-Center Eric Fehr had some pretty meaty stuff to say about his team's poor game.
"We haven't had good starts, especially against teams that are out of playoffs, for whatever reason. I think we need to bring the same kind of energy. It doesn't matter if it's a team at the bottom of the standings or a team at the top o the standings. We have to play the exact same way and we haven't been doing that."
-Fehr on the early deficit:
"Anytime you spot a team two goals in this league, they're just going to shut down and play strong defensively. I think we tried to pick them a part through the neutral zone and they're one of the best neutral zone teams in the league. You're not going to be able to do hat. We needed to play a hard-work game today and we didn't do that."
-Fehr on his team giving up offensive chances:
"We definitely had stretches where we played well and we probably gave them about 10 two-on-ones. We were taking unnecessary risks to try to create offense when we're a high-scoring team. We don't have to take those chances I think. The chances will come if we play the right way."
-Fehr dismissed a suggestion they overlooked the Devils:
"We're not overlooking anybody right now. We see where the standings are. We just didn't play the way we were capable of playing the whole game."
-Fehr suggested his team's shot total was misleading:
“We had them in their zone hemmed in. They did a really good job of keeping us to the outside I think. We played a pretty perimeter game most of the night tonight and they played a textbook New Jersey Devils game.”
-Right winger Bryan Rust has seen this style of hockey before, having played for Hynes:
“They're a stingy team. Playing for Hynes last year and playing for him with the [United States Development Program] team, I know how his teams play. They get out to that early lead and they play hard and they played structured. That gave us fits a little bit. We played hard but we maybe didn't play as smart as we should the whole game.”
-Sullivan was asked if his power play tonight was a step back from Sunday's game:
“It was. I didn't think we were sharp. I didn't think our whole game was sharp and the power play was probably a repercussion of it. So it was indicative of our overall play. But certainly I don't think it was nearly as good as it was the last game.”
-Sullivan wasn't all that impressed with his team's shot totals:
“We had some quality chances. We just couldn't seem to get a goal. I think if we could have scored there, it would have given our team some life, some energy and we just couldn't seem to get one. Sid had a great chance on a three-on-one. We had extended time in the offensive zone where we couldn't seem to get it behind him. It was that type of game. It was one of those types of game where it was a struggle for us to put any sort of collective effort at the net. I think we ended up with 39 shots but I think we could have done a better job as far as getting more people to the area and make it more difficult for the saves.”
-Sullivan assessed Bennett's return:
"I thought Beau, for his first time back in a while here, had a solid effort. He didn't play a lot of minues. Part of that was by design. Part of that was because we were chasing the game. But I thought for his first game back, after an extended time out like that, he was pretty good."
-Crosby was critical of the power play:
“We're not executing well enough. We've got to find a way, especially with two days in practice. We went over it a lot. We've got to find a way to execute it a lot better. We know what we have to do out there. It's a matter when [opposing] teams pressure, there's plays we have to make. When you don't, it makes for a long night. We just have to execute a lot better.”
-Ditto defenseman Justin Schultz:
"Sometimes. Some power plays, we're moving it around and getting good looks. And others, it seems like we're on different pages. It was just a tough night for the special teams."
-Bennett talked about the early deficit:
"They're a much different team when they have the lead and they had the lead 30 seconds in. We just got to bounce back and get back to the way we were playing when we had the six-game winning streak."
-Bennett talked about his return:
"It felt good. It's tough, guys are winning six in a row, you come back and you lose. You never want to break up any mojo that we have going. It's just a tough game to come back in to."
-The Penguins led in shots, 39-24.
-Letang led the game with five shots.
-Palmieri led he Devils with four shots.
-Letang led the game with 27:43 of ice time.
-Devils defenseman Adam Larsson was right behind him with 27:13.
-The Penguins controlled faceoffs, 35-20 (64 percent).
-Crosby was 17 for 24 (71 percent).
-Zajac as 11 for 26 (42 percent).
-Devils defneseman Andy Greene led the game with six blocked shots.
-Defensemen Trevor Daley and Ian Cole each led the Penguins with two blocked shots.
-Wedgewood, playing his second career game, recorded his first career shutout.
-Wedgweood became the first Devils rookie goaltender to record a shutout since Scott Clemmensen made 25 saves against the Penguins, oddly enough, in a 3-0 win at the Civic Arena, Jan. 20, 2004.
-This was the second time the Devils shut out the Penguins this season. Previously, goaltender Cory Schneider made 21 saves in a 4-0 home win, Nov. 14.
-The last time the Devils shut out the Penguins twice in the same season without legendary goaltender Martin Brodeur being involved was that dreadful 2003-04 season. Clemmensen and Corey Schwab (21 saves in a 2-0 road win Dec. 27, 2003) did the trick.
-The Devils' last win in Pittsburgh was a 3-1 victory Feb. 10, 2013.
-Devils left winger Blake Pietila made his NHL debut.
-The Penguins had their six-game winning streak snapped.
-Crosby had his 12-game scoring streak snapped.
-Hornqvist played his 500th career game.
-Highlights (so to speak):
(Photo: Gene J. Puskar/Associated Press)