Penguins Stuck in Hockey Hades; Devils Burn Them, 5-2
Earning a Metropolitan Division playoff berth was one of the Pittsburgh Penguins’ most basic objectives going into this season.
Their chances of doing that would probably be a lot better if they actually defeated a Metro team occasionally.
That’s something they haven’t managed since beating the New York Rangers Dec. 20, which is one of the reasons they’re hanging onto an Eastern Conference playoff berth by the edge of their fingernails.
The Penguins’ 5-2 loss to New Jersey at PPG Paints Arena Saturday, which came less than 24 hours after a 5-4 come-from-ahead defeat by the New York Islanders on Long Island, stretched their losing streak inside the Metro to 0-5-3.
The Penguins played without No 1 goalie Tristan Jarry for the eighth game in a row and the 16th time in the past 18 games. Casey DeSmith, who gave up three goals in the final 21 minutes against the Islanders, was given the night off, so Dustin Tokarski got the start.
He acquitted himself pretty well, turning aside 37 of 41 shots and keeping the Penguins in the game longer than they deserved to be.
Tokarski certainly seemed to be more invested in the outcome than a lot of his teammates were. Some of them burned with the white-hot intensity of a waterlogged tissue.
Former Penguins defenseman John Marino of New Jersey got onto the stat sheet early … for tripping Sidney Crosby at 3:05 of the opening period.
Marino’s stay in the penalty box was brief, however, as the Penguins scored a power-play goal just 28 seconds later.
Evgeni Malkin burst down the left side and drove toward the net and steered in a cross-ice feed from Rickard Rakell for his 20th of the season, the 14th time he has reached that level in his career.
Kris Letang got the second assist.
Dawson Mercer tied the game just 80 seconds later, backhanding a shot past Tokarski from the left side of the crease at 4:53.
Teddy Blueger, who entered the game with no goals in his previous 28 games, finally put a puck in the net at 8:08.
Unfortunately for Blueger and his team, he did it by blatantly kicking the puck past Devils goalie Vitek Vanecek. It would have been a terrific goal in the English Premier League, but the NHL frowns on goals being scored by players who use a distinct kicking motion.
The Penguins failed to score on two more chances with the extra man in the opening period, while the Devils were stopped on their only power play.
The Penguins were credited with eight hits during the opening 20 minutes, including a resounding one delivered by Jason Zucker, who crushed Devils defenseman Brendan Smith with a shoulder-to-shoulder check behind the New Jersey net.
Pittsburgh Penguins defenseman Marcus Pettersson was penalized for interference in the neutral zone at 3:37 of the second, and the Devils needed just 10 seconds to turn than man-advantage into a goal, as Dougie Hamilton beat Tokarski from just inside the right dot.
New Jersey defenseman Ryan Graves was sent off for interference at 8:08, and that penalty led to a goal just 17 seconds later.
Unfortunately for the Penguins. the Devils scored it, as Letang lost the puck at the New Jersey blue line and the Devils got a two-on-one shorthanded break against Malkin. Nico Hischier completed it by taking a feed from Yegor Sharangovich and beating Tokarski from the left side.
The game effectively was over by the second intermission, but New Jersey piled on with a goal by Jesper Bratt from inside the right circle at 8:39 of the third period and Malkin got his second of the night on a shot from the slot at 14:43.
Hischier closed out the scoring with an empty-netter at 17:56.
The Pittsburgh Penguins have a scheduled day off Sunday and will face the New York Islanders Monday at 7:08 p.m. at PPG Paints Arena.