Twenty-four hours after the Penguins roasted the division rival Washington Capitals, they were unable to turn up the heat on the New Jersey Devils. The Devils speed controlled the dead-legged Penguins, and the Devils third line center Travis Zajac scored two goals for a 3-1 Devils win at Prudential Center.
The Devils leapfrogged the Penguins into the Metro Division second place. The Devils also have two games in hand.
The Penguins were without Patric Hornqvist, who suffered a lower body injury, Friday night. And without Conor Sheary who is out week-to-week, as well. The in-game line shuffling to overcome deficiencies also had adverse effects and created some confusion, as the Penguins once had two right wings on the ice simultaneously in the first period.
The Devils outshot the Penguins 27-9 after two periods. The Devils domination also showed in the shot attempts, which were 58-21 through two periods. The final shot tally was 38-16.
“You have to turn the page quickly (from the previous night)” said Sidney Crosby. “Emotionally, I don’t think we did.”
Trailing 2-0, the Penguins found energy at the start of the third period. The Penguins registered several chances before Evgeni Malkin put the Penguins on the scoreboard. From his goalline, Malkin made the headman pass to Carl Hagelin at center, then came late on the rush.
Ian Cole passed to Malkin (29), who found a clear path to the net and deked backhand on Devils goalie Keith Kinkaid. Malkin has eight goals in last four games. Phil Kessel also assisted, which gave him 61 points and just one behind Tampa Bay Lightning winger Nikita Kucherov.
Travis Zajac took advantage of the sloppy defense, 30 seconds into the second period. Zajac went to the net, while Penguins forward Bryan Rust skated past. Zajac (6) grabbed the loose puck in front and converted from the crease. 1-0.
Late in the second period, Blake Coleman took advantage of Olli Maatta’s turnover and the Penguins Keystone Cops zone coverage afterward. Three Penguins defenders converged on Zajac, which left Coleman open and clear within 15 feet. Coleman (6) beat Penguins goalie Casey Desmith. 2-0.
“When you don’t play committed, when you don’t play hard, you get outplayed, you’re not going to win,” said Penguins head coach Mike Sullivan
Zajac (7) ended the Penguins comeback midway through the third period when he deflected Damon Severson’s point shot past DeSmith.
The Penguins called up Zac Aston-Reese to replace Hornqvist. Aston-Reese played just over six minutes and wasn’t a factor, despite getting an opportunity to play with Malkin and Kessel.
DeSmith stopped 35 of 38 and was otherwise very good.
Former Penguins goalie Marc-Andre Fleury will return to Pittsburgh, Tuesday when the Penguins host the Vegas Golden Knights.
–Mike Sullivan thew subtle shade on the NHL in his postgame presser. When asked about challenging the fairly obvious no-goal call in the third period, Sullivan replied:
“The criteria of goaltender interference is so vague; it’s difficult to interpret right now. We obviously thought it was close enough it was worth a challenge.”
Essentially Sullivan hoped to take advantage of the current ambiguity surrounding interference. Fair enough.
–Casey DeSmith was again very good. He was the Penguins best player. The “little engine who could” earned himself more consideration. However, he may want to play the puck more often, rather than holding on. The Penguins are not a great faceoff team. As he gains experience, perhaps he’ll look to play the puck to keep the pace of play, which usually benefits the Penguins.
–The pace of play did not benefit the Penguins against the Devils. The swamp monsters were faster and hungrier. Taylor Hall got past Kris Letang, and Kyle Palmieri also earned a clear path to DeSmith. Otherwise, the Devils were first on the puck and skated the Penguins out of the barn.
–It was just a bad night for the Penguins. At some point, everyone involved would like to get a lineup settled, get healthy and see what they’ve got. But, that probably won’t happen.
–Dominik Simon is regressing to the mean. He’s chasing the puck instead of retrieving it. He’s chasing the game rather than leading it. After the early promise, he does not look like a long-term contributor.
–A Penguin scout was in Montreal…along with scouts from a myriad of other teams. It looks like Montreal is preparing to hang the “For Sale” sign up.
–Last time the Penguins had only 16 shots?
Last time exactly 16: Jan. 30, 2009 at NJ.
— Bob Grove (@bobgrove91) February 4, 2018