The Pittsburgh Penguins lost their third straight game at PPG Paints Arena and third straight game to a Metro Division opponent. They whiffed on nine power play chances and even gave up a shorthanded goal in a 4-2 loss to the New Jersey Devils on Friday.
The Penguins are 0-2-1 since the holiday break and have lost five of their last six (1-3-2), but the Penguins locker room had a slightly defiant feel. They steered to the positives, unlike their reactions following brutal losses earlier this week.
The game was the Penguins’ debut for young defenseman Ty Smith, whom they acquired from the New Jersey Devils last summer in the John Marino trade. Smith, 22, is left-handed but played the right side due to injuries removing three of the Penguins’ righties (Kris Letang, Jeff Petry, and Chad Ruhwedel).
It was the first time this season that Smith played the right. He also took the point on the Penguins’ top power-play unit that was a culprit in the loss, even if coach Mike Sullivan provided some cover.
“It’s hard to be critical of this group,” Sullivan said. “They’ve been pretty dynamic for the last 10-plus games or so. The power play has been winning games for us.
“I will tell you, I think (Jeff Carter’s) goal was a product of the power play because they kept the penalty group on the ice for two minutes. And so those guys were trying to defend when they were exhausted. And then (Carter) comes over the boards. It ends up being a five-on-five goal, but in our minds, the power play guys had a significant influence on that goal.”
The power play was officially 0-for-9 with 16:27 of man-advantage time.
Trailing 3-2, the Penguins had a golden opportunity with a four-minute power play in the middle of the third period but were flat. After little opportunity or shots, the paying faithful began to turn on the team with a cascade of boos.
The Penguins perhaps won the even-strength battle with a pair of goals (Evgeni Malkin, Jeff Carter), but a couple of lax defensive plays submarined their efforts.
New Jersey scored a power-play goal and a shorthanded goal.
Pittsburgh Penguins Locker Room:
The Penguins winger could be categorized as a bit defiant on Friday. The Penguins’ effort was disjointed, and they lost their fifth game in the last six, but Rust wasn’t biting on negativity, especially on the power play.
“We just weren’t getting enough pucks and bodies to the net. I think they did a good job of getting in the lanes … We were a little bit slow. Maybe we didn’t make enough plays, but the power play has been good for a while, and it was just unfortunate that (it was) a little bit of an off night.”
To underscore the power play struggles, Rust had an uncharacteristically quiet night. He didn’t have any shots or attempts on the final score sheet and was a minus-2.
The Penguins goalie was on a roll before the NHL holiday break approached but lost his last three starts.
However, Jarry was far from a cause on Friday. He stopped 24 of 27, but the goals scored were uncontested Grade A chances.
“Obviously, we need a little more to be done,” Jarry said. “We want to be on the other side of things, but I think just the way we played tonight is better than the previous two, and I think we’re doing the right things. We just didn’t get rewarded.”
The defenseman has been the Twitter answer to several issues for much of the Pittsburgh Penguins’ season. As other d-men slump or struggle, Smith’s debut became more eagerly anticipated.
Smith admitted that it was the first time all season he played the right side (he was also primarily a left-side defenseman during his first two seasons in New Jersey, too).
However, he held the fort at 5v5 and was not on the wrong end of any mistakes. He played over 22 minutes, had four shots and four hits.
Thrusting a newbie to the top of PP1 was a difficult challenge, and despite a few moments of pressure, that part of the game didn’t go so well. Smith seemed a little disappointed in his performance on the power play.
“It shouldn’t have been that tough, I guess,” Smith said. “Those guys are really good players. They’ve been doing great things on the powerplay for a long time, so I think I just need to be better there.”