The Pittsburgh Penguins played their second game of a back-to-back schedule last night in Newark against the New Jersey Devils. Like it's been the case so often when they play there, they couldn't solve the Devils, and last night they specifically couldn't beat Marty Brodeur, who won his 4th straight game, and Jaromir Jagr, who scored the Devils' last two goals (4th an empty netter).
Marc-Andre Fleury was in net for a second consecutive night. Zach Sill was brought in from WBS and took Joe Vitale's spot on the fourth line. Deryk Engelland was in on D, meaning Bortuzzo was scratched again.
In the first period the Pens outshot the Devils 10-3. They had some good, really good looks they didn't convert on. A couple of power plays that were really nothing to write home about (and those were our better power plays on the night). They dominated play and Fleury easily turned away what few chances the Devils had, but the only goal of the period went in with 18 seconds left to play (a somewhat familiar Penguins trend), when Andy Greene's shot deflected off of Craig Adams's stick and trickled in through Fleury's five hole. This should have been a stoppable goal for Fleury had he seen it - I sat behind him and had no idea where the puck was and neither did Greene nor Fleury nor anyone else.
In the second period the Pens tied up the game fairly quickly, as 4 minutes in Marek Zidlicky misplayed the puck on the blue line, and Chris Kunitz smelled blood in the water and went straight for it, rushing on to Brodeur who went all in on the poke check but Kunitz smartly and calmly chipped it over him for the goal. After that goal, however, the Devils tightened up the play in the neutral zone and the Pens had to work mightily just to bring the puck through to the Devils zone. That seemed to tire them and they went off the forecheck and especially the backcheck, giving the Devils some golden chances, all denied by Fleury. Bylsma said the reason for putting Fleury in goal on consecutive nights was that he didn't face a heavy workload the night before. Different story tonight. With about 90 seconds left to play in the second, the Pens focus was gone and the Devils went on another odd-man rush, Larsson had an open lane and he sniped one in. This guy hasn't scored a goal in two years but he found the net easily.
In the third period we were all back in 2004 for 20 minutes, as Brodeur played like he did in his heyday. Nothing was going to go past him. The Pens had a few power plays, and on one of them Kunitz had the puck in the blue paint and in his typical relentless fashion (which is why I love him so much and why Kunitz alone is worth the ticket price) he didn't fumble and flub, he gave it 7-8 solid whacks. Marty kept his pad tightly to the pipe, as if to say we could do this all night. The Rock was alive with chants of 'Marty, Marty', and I felt like joining in, instead of just sitting there in my Kris Letang jersey dug out from the bottom of the drawer specifically to demonstrate support for our embattled blueliner. How did he repay my trust in him? By flubbing a routine cross-ice pass to Paul Martin, turning it over and about two nervous eye blinks later it was on Jagr's stick and flying over Fleury's left shoulder, exactly where the future Hall-of-Famer meant to put it. He added an empty-netter for good measure, to lead the suddenly surging Devils in goals and points on the season.
Maybe Jagr can show Evgeni Malkin how it's done. Geno did a lot of fancy skating, including a spin-o-rama that left us all dazzled, had some great chances, after he didn't convert them he stood by Brodeur wondering how that puck didn't go in while the Devils were skating the other way on an odd man rush. If you think I'm exaggerating, here is a post-game quote from Jagr himself: "But, especially against the Penguins, especially the first two lines when they have a long shift," Jagr said. "It’s tough for them to backcheck and when our defense jump into the play we can always make it an odd-man rush and that’s what happened – four against three, three against two." Sid was playing his regular shifts plus shifts with Adams and Glass starting at 10 minutes into a scoreless game. I don't know why they bothered with calling up Zach Sill. Too bad he didn't manage a hat-trick on his first three 30-second shifts to earn his keep and some more playing time.
That's basically it. The Pens couldn't score again, not for lack of luck but for lack of focus in sustaining offensive cycle and locating their shots. Everything was going ice-level at Brodeur, who had little trouble managing it. Fleury made some great stops but let in some questionable goals (1 and 2). The shot differential was 28-22 Pens, by the way. It was a well planned and better executed game for the Devils, who always play us well at the Rock and almost always beat us. Even with limited talent this year, these guys know how to play, and as a hockey fan I stopped obsessing over why Geno can't score about halfway into the game and just enjoyed watching some of the all-time greats competing hard all night although they've won and achieved everything there is to be achieved. Kudos to them. The Pens play the Ducks next on Monday. Teemu's last game in Pittsburgh.