An opening-faceoff battle between Robert Bortuzzo and Ryan Carter started the action in an electrified CONSOL Energy Center Sunday evening, and, like your dad's terrible old cell phone, the New Jersey Devils sucked the energy out of the place in no time.
For a second straight game, Pittsburgh could get nothing going against the New Jersey Devils. Johan Hedburg helped the Devils withstand a first-period barrage with a few excellent saves, just long enough for David Clarkson to open the scoring midway through the first and for the Devils to enter their eminently unwatchable defensive posture en route to a dominating 3-1 win.
After winning five straight, the Penguins have surrendered four clean points to the Devils in just two days, falling three points behind New Jersey in the Atlantic Division race. The Devils now own a five-game winning streak and still have just one regulation loss on the season.
Clarkson scored two goals in the contest to bring his team-leading season total to 9, while Ilya Kovalchuk added his fourth of the year in the second period.
Hedburg made 23 saves in the win.
While the Penguins cleaned up their penalty habits of the last game, they didn't clean up the kill. New Jersey scored on their only power play chance of the night, with the statuesque Penguins PK unit looking very much like it did in losses to Toronto and the Islanders.
Pittsburgh's home record falls to 2-3-0, while Tomas Vokoun lost his second game in four starts in stopping 20 of 23 shots.
Away from the box score, the Devils made Pittsburgh's young defensemen look very overmatched for perhaps the first time this season. Simon Despres and Dylan Reese got caught behind Vokoun's net a number of times, unable to start the breakout as the Devils seemingly sent seven forecheckers at a time.
With Letang and other veterans on their pairings, Pittsburgh's rookie defenders have shown flashes of potential while any mistakes have been cleaned up by the older guys. A high-pressure Devils forecheck exposed those shortcomings Sunday.
Pittsburgh's even-strength scoring is becoming a concern. Five of the last 7 goals the Penguins have scored have come on the power play dating back to Thursday's win over the Capitals, with both ES goals coming against Washington's feckless goaltending. Zach Boychuk has shown some promise on the Malkin line, but has fanned on a number of prime scoring chances, including one more Sunday night.
The Penguins' regular bottom-six has also accounted for just six goals on the season. While Craig Adams and Tanner Glass won't be asked to provide offense in their positions, Matt Cooke has had a rough start to the year and Tyler Kennedy has been perfectly invisible.
Pittsburgh is in good shape at 8-5-0, but three of their five losses have come within the division and injuries are now beginning to mount. After playing six games in nine days, Pittsburgh gets two days off before their next contest, a Wednesday home date with the Ottawa Senators.