Devils Blog: In Lou We Trust
At what point can we determine this one-point-per night pattern is a bad thing? When it comes to being an optimist, I'm just about as far from being one as they come. I try, but I try in vain more often than not.
Fact is, there aren't any one-point games in the postseason. It's going to end one way or another with 4-on-4 hockey or not, and from what the Pens have shown lately it's not going to end pretty if it trends in any way similar to the regular season.
This is a topic that The Fourth Period's Joe Depto and I touched upon a bit the other night on Twitter - and by "a bit" I mean, basically a few 140 max character replies to one another. He felt it was a bit defeating at this point to watch the Pens walk away from a game with just one of a possible two points. I, on the other hand, can't say I'm comfortable with just one, but at least it's not zero. Does this make me an optimist? Perhaps. I'm convinced I'm watching a playoff-bound team on the ice for the Penguins, but how far they will go in the postseason may very well be more contingent on the group's first-half start than the second-half close. In that sense, I suppose I'm teetering in the direction of pessimism.
One thing Joe and I did agree on was the lack of progress. He cited the San Jose game as the last game to leave a good impression, and to that I have to agree. Still, you may recall that being another one-point outing. The trend has to stop at some point, but if it means trading it in for a few zero-point games then by all means, keep it up Pens.
But enough of that. Here's a fact: the Devils are good. And frankly, at this point in the season they are the complete opposite of the Penguins. Sure, they still have some ground to make up, but you may remember how poorly the Devils were playing right out of the gate. Ilya Kovalchuk couldn't light the lamp. Zach Parise was (and still is) injured. Martin Brodeur was either really on his game to pick up a shutout, or way off with a loss. And yet a small change behind the bench changed all that and the team is making a serious run for a spot in the postseason. Want proof? Devils were a putrid 2-11 in December. In February, the team posted a tremendous 11-1-1. Closing the gap might be tough, but if the February Devils is the team that will show up for the rest of the season, then nothing is impossible.
It was nice to see Brent Johnson between the pipes for the Pens on Friday, considering Marc-Andre Fleury was more or less due for a night off. And still, it all comes down to one thing - the Pens' goaltender and defense may very well allow only one goal in regulation, but if they can't score more than one themselves, it's not going to amount to much. At the core, that is the obvious storyline of any hockey or baseball game, two sports in which games are deciding by one point or run more often than football or basketball. But in either of those four sports, you have to score more than "the other guy" to win. It just isn't happening right now.
Granted, it didn't help much to have Kris Letang register only two minutes of ice time before he was kicked for not having his jersey tied down. The team's big power-play guy and highest-scoring defenseman was ousted and the Pens were left with just five guys on D. That's not to say he's the most physical of d-men on the league, but perhaps his presence on the ice would have at least limited Travis Zajac from taking the express train right in on Brent Johnson for New Jersey's first goal in the second.
Good on Tyler Kennedy for scoring his 15th of the season Friday night, tying his previous career-high from 2008-09. Again, with him it's one of two things - he's either shooting it into the goalie's logo 20 times in a row, or he's getting a goal every other game. Inconsistency is consistency for him.
As for Kovalchuk's game-winner - can't say anything bad about that, except to shake your head in shame at Zbynek Michalek for sitting in the box when it was scored with so little time left in OT. Jordan Staal looked a bit shaken up, the Devils were orchestrating chances and Johnson was left to flop all over the crease in a vain attempt to keep it out. Didn't happen, Pens get one, Devils get two.
This horrid road trip comes to an end Saturday at 7 ET in Boston. A regulation win would be nice, but a point is a nice consolation prize - while a loss in OT still counts for one at least.