The Pittsburgh Penguins dropped their fourth straight game as they lost to the New Jersey Devils at home by a score of 3-2 on Monday night, and moved into last place in the Atlantic division with just over 20% of their season played. The Penguins continued their downward spiral despite battling back from a 2-0 defecit to tie the game midway through the third period. It was a breakout 3-on-2 play late in the 3rd period on a blind pass by Georges Laraque from behind the Devils net that gave New Jersey the break they needed to break the tie and win the game.
The Devils scored twice on the Penguins in the first period to quickly go ahead 2-0. The first goal was an even strength, bad-angle 5-hole shot by Travis Zajak that slipped through the pads of Penguins netminder Dany Sabourin at 4:40. Zach Parisi and Dainus Zubrus were credited with assists. Less than 6 minutes later, it was Zach Parise who put up a power play marker while Erik Christensen sat for hooking. Brian Gionta and Patrick Elias picked up the assists. The first 2-goals came on the first three Devils’ shots of the game. The Penguins outshot the Devils 7-5 in the first and were 0 for 1 on the power play. The Devils converted on 1 of their 2 man advantages.
In the second, the Penguins quickly got on the board at 0:26, just after the expiration of a power play that had extended into the second from the first period. Sidney Crosby kept his scoring streak alive at 17-games by making a beautiful move in front of the goaltender and putting the puck past Kevin Weekes. Ryan Malone and Ryan Whitney were credited with the assists on the goal. The Penguins successfully navigated 3 subsequent, sequential penalties to Laraque (slashing), Gonchar (hooking) and Orpik (hooking), that included a brief 5-on-3 opportunity for the Devils. The Penguins penalty killing unit performed very well in battling through this lengthy kill. The Devils outshot the Penguins 10-7 in the second and were 0 for 3 on the power play, while the Penguins had no man advantages.
In the third, the Penguins battled back with a rocket of a shot from Evgeni Malkin on the power play that stoned Kevin weekes and knotted the score at 2. The goal, assisted by Sidney Crosby and Sergei Gonchar, extended Malkin’s current point streak to 11-games. About 4 minutes later, however, the Devils capitalized on a Penguins mistake to score the game winner on a 3 on 2 breakout. Controlling the puck behind the Devils net, Georges Laraque threw a pass out in front of the net where nobody was home except the Devils players. Jarkko Ruutu had briefly left Elias undefended in the Devils’ end, allowing Elias to take the lead out of his zone on a 3-on-2 break. Elias skated in and beat goalie Dany Sabourin cleanly off a cross ice pass from Brian Gionta as Sergei Brylin cut down the middle, forcing Sabourin to defend against two potential shooters. The Penguins weren’t able to respond after the Elias goal, despite outshooting the Devils 11-6 in the final frame.
Aside from letting in a soft first goal, the Penguins played a better game with a lot of intensity coming from the 1st, 2nd and 4th lines. “It’s easy to look at the way things have gone the last few games and be critical and be negative, but we probably played our best game in the last few,” Penguins captain Sidney Crosby said. “We deserved to win it, but it didn’t happen.” As has been the problem of late, the Penguins were held to goals by Malkin and Crosby only. “We had our chances. We pressed in the third and made a mistake and they put it in our net,” Crosby said. “I know you have to work for your breaks, but sometimes that happens and it’s tough. … I thought we deserved a few calls in the third but we didn’t get them.” Goaltender Dany Sabourin noted, “It’s just too bad that one turnover cost us the game at the end.” Coach Therrien agreed, saying, “One scoring chance. It’s tough to win in this league if you are giving up bad goals. That’s happening to us right now.”
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The Penguins have a couple of days off before hosting the New York Islanders on Thursday night.