Lack of offense and far too many turnovers spelled disaster for the Pittsburgh Penguins Saturday evening in New Jersey. The visiting Penguins (12-8-0) were unable to mount a formidable attack against Martin Brodeur and the New Jersey Devils, ultimately dropping a 4-1 decision.
Basking in the glow of last night’s victory over the Nashville Predators, Sidney Crosby and his troops hoped to leave the Prudential Center proud and buoyant.
The opening frame saw the Penguins, ranked first in the Metropolitan Division, functioning like a well-oiled machine. Crosby, the club’s marquee faceoff man, won over 80% of draws taken and effortlessly connected with linemate Chris Kunitz in an effort to garner an early lead. From a defensive standpoint, a variety of skaters—Tanner Glass, Craig Adams, Olli Maatta, and Deryk Engelland—blocked a flurry of shots, making it near impossible for the Devils to register a shot on goal.
Then the tide turned.
An unassisted wrist shot by Andy Greene, his second of the season, trickled over the goal line at 19:41 of the first period. Suddenly the mighty Penguins—who established a commanding presence with heavy hits, disciplined play, and an emphasis on defense—fell like a house of cards.
Kunitz notched his ninth tally of the season on a breakaway to start the second frame but his efforts failed to spark the club’s offense. The goal was the lone marker for the visiting club.
“We had our fair amount of chances, especially early on, we had some pretty good looks and didn’t score,” Crosby reflected following the loss. “When it turns into that kind of game, a bounce here, a bounce there. The one chance they capitalize on is the difference in the game. We have to find a way to bare down and get those goals.”
Despite multiple opportunities with a man advantage and an effective killing off of Crosby’s double minor, the Penguins never got back into the game. In effect, the team handed two points to the Devils.
A tally from Adam Larsson and a pair from seasoned forward Jaromir Jagr would seal the Penguins’ fate. Defensive blunders by Kris Letang and poor puck management as a whole created the perfect storm for the Devils. While the Penguins’ will slowly faded, the Devils hunted pucks, created opportunities, clogged shooting lanes, and forced the play north with numerous odd man rushes.
While a low scoring contest is the norm when the Devils and Penguins lock horns, this outcome was far from ordinary. The Devils established a seemingly impermeable blue line that stifled all activity from the Penguins. On this night, scoring chances were few and far between for the visiting club. Brodeur, in a showing of skill and confidence, registered 27 stops and a .964 save percentage.
Marc-Andre Fleury’s woes were evident each time the netminder repeatedly fumbled with the puck. The Montreal native looked uncoordinated, sluggish, and graceless. Fleury’s Achilles’ heel was his blocker—allowing Larsson to capitalize on the weakness. Prior to this evening, Larsson last goal was registered on November 26, 2011. Fleury finished the evening with 18 stops and a .857 save percentage.
The Penguins will look ahead to Monday evening’s meeting with the Anaheim Ducks. Dan Byslma, the Penguins’ bench boss, will need to rebuild the club’s confidence and find a desperately needed scoring touch.
Three Stars of the Game
Martin Brodeur (NJ)
Andy Greene (NJ)
Chris Kunitz (PIT)