The Devils have not won since last Friday in overtime against the Washington Capitals. Since then, they lost three straight games in overtime and a shootout. New Jersey’s mistakes led them to their demise, but they’ve played well enough to earn a point in each game. This afternoon in Pittsburgh they showed no reason they deserved one. Sidney Crosby and Chris Kunitz each had a goal and two assists in the Penguins decisive 5-1 victory over the Devils.
Before the game, Head Coach Peter DeBoer announced he would jumble the top two lines. Dainius Zubrus and Ilya Kovalchuk centered Adam Henrique on the top line, while Travis Zajac moved down to the second line, flanked by David Clarkson and Patrick Elias. Kovalchuk has been silent since his first goal (the game winner) against the Capitals in overtime last Friday. Both lines only mustered six shots on net. The team overall had 16 the whole game. It would speak to the nature of how they played.
The Devils made too many mistakes, and the Penguins made them pay. They failed to get the puck deep in Pittsburgh’s zone. The forecheck looked good in spots through the first 40 minutes, but was non-existent in the final 20. Most fans will point to the goal that changed the game. Trailing 1-0 in the second period, Anton Volchenkov was in his own zone pressured by Kunitz. He whiffed a pass that Kunitz pounced on and blasted through the pads of Brodeur to extend his teams lead to 2-0.
“One mistake compounded two or three and we don’t lose our composure that way very often, but it happened,” said DeBoer, whose team now sits 3-1-3 on a four game losing streak.
The Devils had some momentum heading into the third period only trailing by one. The Penguins were on the powerplay over halfway through the second. Zubrus pounced on the sloppy play at the blue line, carried to the near half boards in the Pittsburgh zone, then whipped around a pass to the slot for a cutting Andy Greene who beat Marc Andre Fleury one on one. New Jersey was energized and finished the period well.
Once the puck dropped, it was all gone. About three minutes in, a breakdown behind the net had the forwards scrambling, leading to Kris Letang’s high slot shot getting by Brodeur through a screen. Later on, the defense couldn’t recover in the neutral zone, as Crosby came in on a two on one, and buried a high glove side shot into the net. On the next Pittsburgh goal, Krys Barch was pressured in his own corner, tried to pass to Jacob Josefson in the slot, but he missed his target. Instead, Robert Bortuzzo received the puck at the blueline. His shot was deflected by Josefson’s stick as he tried to block it. It ended up in the back of the net.
“A good team like that if you don’t show up with your A game, they can make you look bad and that’s what happened,” said DeBoer,
“We had too many mistakes as a defense as a group,” said the Devils captain Bryce Salvador. “It’s unacceptable. Too many sloppy plays”
Similar to their loss on Thursday at home against the Islanders, face-off hampered New Jersey. Pittsburgh controlled the dots 34-21. They held the puck for long possessions in the offensive zone. Travis Zajac was a team best 8-for-11 on draws. Henrique struggled in his first game taking face-offs, going 5-16.
The only thing DeBoer liked about the game was “Marty”. Brodeur was overwhelmed as the defense broke down. The Penguins speed gave the Devils defensemen issues. They turned it over behind the net a few times, forcing Brodeur to make some sprawling saves before the flood gates opened in the third.
“It was one of those games. They pressured us with their speed a lot. They made us make mistakes,” said Brodeur, who made 25 saves in the loss.
This weekend is the Devil’s first of ten back-to-back series of games. Tomorrow they will travel back to Long Island for their third meeting this season with the New York Islanders. Johan Hedburg will start in goal. New Jersey will have to be mindful not to take penalties as New York owns the best powerplay in the NHL. They need to make the simple, smart plays with the puck. New Jersey has struggled in the opening of games. They can’t keep coming back every time, and the players know it. Super Bowl Sunday will present another challenge for the boys in red and black to fix.
“For me, if you’re going to play that way, you might as well get beat 5-1 or 6-1 rather than 2-1 and fool yourself,” said DeBoer. “So, it was a good lesson for us. We’ve only lost one game in regulation, but we’ve got to get back to work here.”
About the Author: Sports Reporter by day, puck stopper between the pipes at night. I was the Locker Room Reporter for the Islanders for WRHU-FM. Currently, I cover the New Jersey Devils on HockeyIndependent.com and Metro Area Hockey on BrooklynFans.com Follow me on Twitter @John_A_Iadevaia