There are games when the struggle bus makes a few stops, and then there are jaw-droppingly bad games when the bus closes the door and speeds past. The clunker was the seventh Pittsburgh Penguins loss and fourth regulation loss in their last 11 games.
The struggle bus didn’t even bother slowing down.
The New Jersey Devils played just once in the last 11 days, but instead, it was the Penguins who were rusty and disorganized. Turnovers were aplenty. Again. New Jersey led early in the game and was never tied nor trailed as the marsh monsters beat the Penguins 5-1 at PPG Paints Arena on Thursday night.
Perhaps the highlight of the evening was AT&T Sports team reporter Dan Potash’s Axel Rose costume for 80’s night. Otherwise, it was more of a spaghetti incident.
Just 76 seconds into the game, Marcus Pettersson followed a turnover by stepping forward. New Jersey whizzed past. Even though four Penguins raced back to collapse around the net, no one actually covered Jesper Bratt. In the crease, Nico Hischier’s pass bounced through Pettersson, and Bratt (15) had an easy tap-in marker.
Five minutes into the period, the Penguins again padded Bratt’s stats. After a disorganized breakout in which the Penguins defensemen were reading a different book than the forwards, Evan Rodrigues tapped a breakout pass into the slot. Only Bratt (16) was in the vicinity, and he neatly ripped a top-shelf wrister over Penguins goalie Tristan Jarry.
Just 57 seconds later, Penguins Claus visited David Puddy’s favorite team. New Jersey’s forecheck pressured Pettersson into another Penguins turnover. New Jersey defenseman P.K. Subban snapped a pass to Yegor Sharangovich just feet from Jarry. Sharangovich (11) quickly flipped it over Jarry.
And the first period mercifully, eventually, ended.
But things didn’t necessarily improve.
Tristan Jarry didn’t make it out of the second period. It wasn’t his fault, but as one of the best Pittsburgh Penguins over the last six weeks, he earned a reprieve from the shelling.
Midway through the middle period, New Jersey burned the Penguins penalty kill when Damon Severson beat Jarry from the point. Penguins defenseman Mike Matheson was caught directly in front of Jarry, who didn’t see the shot.
And Casey DeSmith finished the game for the Penguins.
Evgeni Malkin (7) scored the Penguins goal. It was a moment of beauty on a night as ugly checking your 401k on Thursday afternoon. Malkin burst through a seam in the New Jersey PK and beat New Jersey Devils goalie Nico Daws.
Nico Hischier (14) scored a power-play goal midway through the third period after Jeff Carter took a well-earned high sticking double minor. Carter might get a call from the NHL Department of Player Safety for essentially cross-checking Dawson Mercer in the face while the Devil was at full speed.
For a team that has been sputtering or going sideways, Thursday night against a non-playoff team was a decided turn south. One game buttressed by good hockey is the kind of game you shrug off. An absolute clunker following two straight inconsistent losses and more losses than wins in the last 10 games is a problem.
The Pittsburgh Penguins are 4-4-3 in their last 11. They mustered a power-play goal but only three shots on three power plays. After a couple of turnovers, Marcus Pettersson’s ice time was slashed. He played a team-low 5:59 after 40 minutes.
Jarry stopped 14 of 19 shots in 33 minutes.