It's almost comical at this point of the season. The New Jersey Devils fall to the Pittsburgh Penguins 2-1. The Penguins were able to come from a 1-0 early deficit to take a 2-1 lead a little past halfway through the second period. The Devils offense being what it has been - a constricting combination of frustration, bad luck, bad execution, poor tactics, and miscommunication - could not muster up a second goal. At least they didn't give up an empty net goal this time, but that's an inconsequential point to make.
As with the Philadelphia game from Saturday, there are some positives to take out of this one. But I can't help but feel hollow about pointing them out. I'll do it anyway. However, I have no confidence that the team will build on them. I have no reason to believe it will pick up the spirits of some of the players. I will say what they are, you - the reader - can agree or disagree or add something I missed, and it will ultimately mean little. The Devils lost again. Their offense was stunted again. The defensive made a critical error that led to the game winning goal. The team made some silly errors that overshadow whatever they did right.
When you go up against a team that won their last 9 games and you only lose 2-1, that's not so bad. On it's own. But when you are 8-16-2, you almost are praying that some kind of Hockey Oprah Winfrey comes down and gifts points to you - or even just a break or two, and both fans and outsiders are baffled as to why this season has gone so horribly wrong, it's just another payload to dump on the disappointment pile. That may seem silly, but that's how I honestly feel. Every loss or even a bad play has to lead to some statement about how "this has summed up the Devils season" or "this is why we are bad." Eventually, it gets tired arguing for or against the merits of what the team should do, and you just start accepting the bad things that happen with little emotion.
The game didn't seem that close aside from the score. To me, it just seemed like Pittsburgh was that much superior to New Jersey. They had a game plan, they went up, and they repelled the Devils. 2-1. Another loss. 17th of the season. And who knows what will happen other than possibly another game fans will see as "must-win," which will be another game the Devils will likely lose.
Please visit Pensburgh for a Pittsburgh take on tonight's game. I have a few more thoughts that are ultimately futile about tonight's game after the jump.Let's get right into it. One of the biggest reasons why the Devils' attack was held back was their own lack of discipline. The game summary shows the Devils took 8 total penalties, 7 minors, and 6 power plays for the Penguins. Given that the Penguins went into tonight having converted 6 out of their last 14 power plays, that's beyond risky - it's just plain dumb. And most of those penalties were very dumb. It's easy to look at the game summary and conclude the refs had it in for New Jersey, but it's false. Here's a quick list of the unnecessary ones.
David Clarkson holding Mike Rupp after Rupp hit Mark Fayne with a check on the boards right in front of the ref. An easy holding call.
Henrik Tallinder grabbing or at least contacting Arron Asham away from the puck. Even if he started to fall on his own, Tallinder did make the actions to help Asham's fall. An easy interference call.
Matt Cooke may have sold it, but Johan Hedberg definitely did poke at him with his stick when Cooke came across the crease. A second easy interference call.
Paul Martin may have been about to fall, but Brian Rolston did shove him into the boards - an easy boarding call (especially since it was just at the end of a Devils PP granted due to an even weaker boarding call on Pascal Dupuis)
Dainius Zubrus tripping up a Pen in the neutral zone right in front of the refs. An easy tripping call.
Rod Pelley getting the puck on a PK in the high slot with no one around him and he lifts it high and long over the glass. That sat him for a delay of game, which was easy for the refs to call.
By my count, that's 6 out of 7 minors that could have been easily avoided. Fortunately, the penalty killing units were incredible tonight. They killed all 6 of Pittsburgh's power plays. Johan Hedberg remained calm, the PK units didn't allow a lot of great positions for shots, and they didn't get too cute with the puck. Pelley's one clearance aside, they were mostly solid clock-killing dumps.
Nevertheless, the Penguins did put up 10 shots on the power play and while they didn't score, it was 11:06 of the game where the Devils had to focus solely on defense. 11:06 where the Devils could not be offensive. It's backhanded praise. While it's fantastic how the PK units did - especially Colin White on his 7:33 of PK time tonight - the Devils would have been far better off if they didn't take these calls. Especially since nearly all of them were easy ones for the refs to call.
To be fair, the Penguins did get tagged for 6 penalties of their own and the Devils had 4 power plays. The refs weren't playing favorites. The positive is that the Devils did score on the first one. Jason Arnott unloaded a slapshot that hit Brian Rolston down low. The puck just dropped to Rolston's stick and he shot it home before Marc-Andre Fleury had a chance to react. Then Rolston bent over and grimaced because taking an Arnott shot hurts. It was a great break for the Devils. Unfortunately, the three power plays later in the game were not only not successful but inconsistent in terms of setting up and getting shots. At least the Penguins can point to having 10 on net among their man advantages. The Devils only had 5 - and 3 after that first power play. 5 shots out of 6:41 of 5-on-4 time isn't praise-worthy. So it wasn't really that great of a night for the PP, goal aside.
Since there was such a big shot disparity on the power play, the event summary shows a more even game at even strength hockey. The Penguins only really outshot the Devils heavily in the first period 16-8, but take away the power play shots and it was 9-6. Over the whole game, the Pens only led 24-23 at even strength shots, which isn't that bad. A quick look at the scoresheet shows that the Penguins offense was led largely by #87, Sidney Crosby. 7 shots on goal, 12 total attempted shots. Kris Letang often was out there with Crosby at even strength and he was a threat from long range with 7 shots on goal of his own among 13 shooting attempts. No wonder both had very good Corsi values per the Time on Ice chart; a +9 and +8, respectively. No wonder that stopping Crosby is pretty much the same as hoping for a unicorn at this juncture. Crosby continues to destroy with a goal and an assist to extend his point streak to 16 games.
Crosby and Letang was a big reason why Colin White (-12) and Henrik Tallinder (-9) ate it in terms of Corsi. They were out on the ice to face them often at evens per the head to head ice time chart at Time on Ice. And White-Tallinder saw a lot of PK time against Crosby and Letang. While White looks real dumb on the eventual game winning goal, as Crosby scored while he was behind an unaware White, I have to feel somewhat sympathetic. He had the incredibly difficult task of going up against Crosby tonight along with taking 7:33 of PK time. That consideration aside, though I can't really defend him (or Langenbrunner, oh, Matt is very unhappy with the captain on this play) on the second goal allowed. Nevertheless, Crosby's unit put up two goals tonight. You can see them along with Rolston's goal in this highlight video for tonight's game.
I don't think I can blame anyone on Chris Kunitz' goal. One great pass through the neutral zone, a second great pass from Crosby, and Kunitz hits it perfectly on the one-timer. The only way Hedberg stops that if he could have somehow slow down time. The second goal against makes me want to throw something. Andy Greene's botched shot turns into a rush for the Penguins, and the Penguins get to three straight rebounds. The third was put into the net by a wide-open Crosby. Why would anyone be on the ice and not be looking for Crosby? Why was the captain Jamie Langenbrunner standing about - even Ilya Kovalchuk backchecked better than he did on the play (and all night)? Why was there even a chance for a second or a third rebound? Why can't this team be beaten by shots like Kunitz' blast? That would be easier to take than a goal like that. It's goals like that just depress the fans.
Moreso, the Devils went on to finish that dreaded second period - of course that goal would be allowed in the second period - only down 11-10 in shots. I guess I can say the Devils didn't get dominated by the Pens. Still allowed a goal which was never answered. Not at all Johan Hedberg's fault. Again, he was left out to dry there and he once again put in a fine 32-save performance without any respectable goal support from the guys in front of him. I will say this over and over, goaltending is not the problem with this team - and tonight's game is yet another example of that.
Tonight's game featured 7 defensemen. Matthew Corrente (6:28), Mark Fayne (10:33), and Olivier Magnan-Grenier (9:24) split up the #6 and spot-duty on special teams. I guess they weren't bad, but I didn't see any real impact from it. The decision to double-shift Ilya Kovalchuk with Mattias Tedenby and Rod Pelley didn't last the whole game. Brian Rolston got some of those double-shifts, and the two fourth-liners weren't very good. Pelley and Tedenby had poor Corsi values at -9 and -7 respectively. Both saw Tyler Kennedy and Mark Letestu, and their line totally won that match-up plenty tonight. At least Travis Zajac's -7 came from playing 16:19 at evens and quite a bit against Crosby; more time than Pelley and Tedenby combined and tougher competition.
As far as who had a good game on offense, I struggle to point a Devil out. It seemed like players had their moments, but the only ones who were in Fleury's end more than their own at the end of the day was Arnott and Dainius Zubrus (+5). Somehow, Patrik Elias on that line was a -3 Corsi. Even so, those three combined for just 5 shots on goal. Langenbrunner may have been bad elsewhere, but he managed 4 by himself. Nevertheless, the plan of double-shifting Kovalchuk with a fourth line that had an offensive player didn't work as Tedenby wasn't good and the D could just focus on #17. It also didn't work with Rolston. Perhaps, just perhaps, it's not a good idea at all. Will John MacLean learn? Will he even be around for Friday's game?
Who knows. I certainly don't. I've made my points based on what I've observed and what the numbers show. But I still feel that this loss is a disappointment regardless of it being a road game against the hottest team in the league and that it wasn't a blowout. For most other teams, they'd just take this and move on. But given that this loss featured so many of the main characteristics of other losses this season, it's another letdown. The Devils' third straight in a month where they absolutely positively need to turn it around. A loss to a blazing Penguins team isn't a surprise, but that can't mean it's crushing given the team's position.
And how else can one feel about it but disappointment?
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