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Postgame thoughts - Devils 3, Penguins 0 - 03-24-16

Written by Seth Rorabaugh on .

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.

What happened

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.

The Penguins

-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.

The Devils

-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. 

Quotable

-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."

Numbers

-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.

Historically speaking

-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.

Visuals

-Game summary.

-Event summary.

-Highlights (so to speak):

(Photo: Gene J. Puskar/Associated Press

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Fear and Panic

Written by Rob Rogers on .

It wouldn't be a real presidential campaign without the candidates weighing in on global tragedies like the terrorist bombing in Brussels. Unfortunately, the rhetoric on the GOP side is especially troubling. 

20160325 Fear and Panic

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Jersey hunt - Devils at Penguins - 03-24-16

Written by Seth Rorabaugh on .

The best jerseys at tonight's Penguins-Devils game:

-Rob Scuderi is popular in black and gold form:

-Also, black and yellow form:

-Ulf Samuelsson:

-Brian Dumoulin:

-No. 11 is popular. John Cullen:

-And Darius Kasparaitis:

-One reader hit quite a hat trick here with a Milan Kraft/Eric Godard/Tanner Glass trifecta:

-Rick Kehoe:

-Matt Cooke:

-Paul Coffey:

-Rick Tocchet:

-Petr Nedved:

-There are several Devils fans on hand. Patrik Elias:

-Bryce Salvador:

-Mike Cammalleri:

-Ilya Kovalchuk:

-The brother of Devils rookie goaltender Scott Wedgewood made the trip from Toronto to watch his second career game:

-Former Penguins/current Devils forward Tyler Kennedy:

 

-Former Penguins defenseman and one-time Devils draft pick Deryk Engelland has a fan:

-It's a popular night for some Wilkes-Barre/Scanton jerseys. Tom Kuhnhackl and Oskar Sundqvist:

 

-In honor of Beau Bennett's return to the lineup, No. 19 is popular. Bryan Trottier:

-Mike Comrie:

-And Bennett:

-Jersey of the Night: Honestly, how often do you see a Reijo Ruotsalainen Devils jersey in your life?

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Pregame thoughts - Devils at Penguins - 03-24-16

Written by Seth Rorabaugh on .

Everything is going right for the Penguins. They're winning. They're scoring goals in bunches. They're getting air-tight goaltending. They're getting lucky bounces. They're getting healthy.

Everything is perfect.

Almost everything.

That sputtering power play is the lone blemish on the Penguins six-game winning streak. In the past five games, all without superstar Evgeni Malkin (above), they've gone 2 for 19 (10.5 percent). Overall, the numbers with and without Malkin are drastically different:

With Malkin   Without Malkin
57 Games 15
38 Power-play goals 3
189 Power-play chances 43
20.1 Success rate 6.5 %

Head coach Mike Sullivan was asked about his power play today and felt it took a step forward by going 1 for 7 in their 6-2 rout of the Capitals Sunday:

"I thought the last game we played, I thought our power play had some traction. Even though percentage-wise, it didn't appear the power play was good the last game, we felt as though it was. There was a quick whistle on which we thought Sid potentially could have scored. But there were a lot of scoring chances. So for me, all we can do is we can coach the process. I though the entries were good. I thought the decision making was good and just the mindset of outworking the penalty kill, retrieving the pucks, all those things that are so important to helping power plays be successful. We liked what we saw the last game. We've got to continue to build on that. Hopefully, that will translate to goals."

For what it's worth, the Penguins spent approximately the final 20 minutes of their practice Wednesday working on different power play combinations. Centers Sidney Crosby, Nick Bonino, right winger Patric Hornqvist, Phil Kessel, defensemen Kris Letang, Justin Schultz, Trevor Daley and left winger Chris Kunitz all seemed to get some work on the top unit at various times. It was almost as if Sullivan was running a research and development laboratory in Cranberry Wednesday.

---

-It's looking pretty likely right winger Beau Bennett (right) will return to the lineup tonight. He was off the ice fairly early from an optional morning skate today while center Oskar Sundqvist was among the last Penguins skaters off. Additionally, Bennett was officially removed from injured reserve today. Presumably, Bennett would take over as the fourth-line's right wing while Eric Fehr would slide to center in place of Oskar Sundqvist. Conor Sheary would serve as that team's left wing. Suffice it to say, Fehr would be the muscle on that line.

-It's also looking pretty certain Brian Dumoulin will return to the lineup after he appeared to injure a leg thanks to a big hit by Capitals left winger Alex Ovechkin Sunday. Dumoulin referred to his ailment as "nothing serioius."

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Devils rookie defenseman Vojtech Mozik is expected to play his second NHL game tonight. The Devils signed him from HC Plzen in the Czech Republic's ELH league this past summer and he spent most of the 2015-16 season with Albany of the AHL until a recent recall.

If HC Plzen sounds familiar, it's the team former Penguins all-star center Martin Straka owns and serves as the general manager of. It's also the team Penguins right winger prospect Dominik Simon played for. This morning, Mozik, who speaks somewhat limited English, spoke about playing for Straka and with Simon:

What was it like playing for Straka? And with him? You were his teammate when he retired as a player a few years ago.

"He's owner of Plzen hockey club. It's really good. He played in the NHL for like 20 years. He was big star. It was an amazing feeling. I played with him in 2012-13 and we win the Czech championship. It was nice. ... He is boss."

Note: In his final game as a player, Straka scored the winning goal in double overtime of Game 7, a 4-3 victory - in the 2013 ELH championship game against PSG Zlin:

You played with Simon last season?

"I played with him all last year all season and on the national team. We are good friends. Good guy. I see he played three games for Pittsburgh. Really good for him. He got a chance. Good for us. Good for Martin Straka."

Have you played against Simon this season in the AHL?

"We played two games probably against [each other]. We talk to each other after the games, we have dinner after the games."

Former Penguins right winger Nick Johnson was also your teammate in Plzen.

"Nick is really good guy. He [has had] a really good season this year. Plzen is a good team. I think they're going to win this year. We'll see."

How has your first season in North America gone?

"I think it's good. Tough start. Everything is new. Smaller rink than Europe. Everything is faster so decisions have to be quicker."

There are a few Czechs on the Devils. Has that helped you?

"Yeah, yeah. Make it easier. Patrik Elias, Jiri Tlusty. They are injured but they are still with the team. So it's good for me."

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-Devils coach John Hynes coached 11 players currently on the Penguins' active roster at some point with the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins. Tom Kuhnhackl was arguably one of his greatest successes given all of his struggles even at the ECHL level. Hynes talked about his development into an NHLer today:

“I think it's fantastic what's going on. He's an impact player and has really earned his way in. He came in as a high scorer when he first came to the organization. He struggled early in his time in Wilkes-Barre. He went down to Wheeling and really worked at his game. [Former Nailers coach] Clark Donatelli did an excellent job with him. He almost transformed his game, how hard he worked, his ability to block shots, wall play, breakouts and things like that.”

“But he was always a player that was willing to do it. So when you have an opportunity to work with players like that and you see them make mistakes, it's not because he wasn't trying. It was because he just didn't know how to do it. So that was an opportunity to take a kid that's got some potential, he's very coachable, he's got a high character [and] you try to help him with his game. I think when you look at his game … now he's a real impactful player. It's guys like him that make coaching or development enjoyable because you have an impact on them as players and people.”

(Photo: Gene J. Puskar/Associated Press)

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No, I will not be eating PNC Park's new Cracker Jack & Mac hot dog

Written by Alex Iniguez on .

This is an abomination.

Noted ESPN food guy Darren Rovell tweeted today that the Pirates will sell something called the Cracker Jack & Mac Dog at PNC Park this season.

The utterly ridiculous hot dog is topped with tasty things — mac and cheese (good), jalapeno peppers (good) and Cracker Jack (good) — coming together to form something decidedly not good. The photo also suggests they may include a prize in there. Don't eat that.

If the Pirates try to rework the lyrics to "Take Me Out to the Ball Game" to include references to their newest menu item, I might have to protest on Federal Street.

Going along with other absurd food items like the Braves' cheeseburger with pizzas as buns, the Pirates probably introduced this hot dog as a way to get idiots like me to write posts like this.

Regardless, I'll stick with mustard.

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