The Penguins' five-game win streak slogged to an ugly end on Saturday as the New Jersey Devils scored twice on 10 power play chances to take hold of the Atlantic Division and Eastern Conference with a 3-1 win.
Brandon Sutter scored an early power play goal in the loss at 1:23 of the first. For the final 58-plus minutes of the game, Martin Brodeur and the Devils limited the Penguins' shots and benefited from a near-constant man advantage, finally striking twice in the third period to put the game away.
The Penguins (8-4-0, 16 points) move to fourth in the conference with the loss, but can take back the lead from the Devils (7-1-3, 17 points) Sunday night at CONSOL Energy Center.
After winning five straight, the Penguins will look to prevent the Devils from earning their own five-game streak Sunday night in Pittsburgh.
Some takeaways from Saturday's game:
- A Jekyll and Hyde afternoon from Evgeni Malkin, who drew three penalties in addition to earning three of his own. Malkin soared at times and was strong defensively on one shift in particular, but otherwise had a game he won't soon want to replicate.
- Quiet game for Sidney Crosby and Chris Kunitz, who had their points-streaks snapped in the loss. They had their chances offensively, much like Malkin, but were accounted for nicely by the Devils' defense all afternoon. Brodeur also did his part to stifle the Pens' offense, including a pair of beauty saves on Malkin and a rabbit's foot sequence in which the puck managed to stay out of a vacated cage.
- Ilya Kovalchuk may be a cyborg. 30:01 TOI in the game, and he's averaging more ice-time than any forward in hockey. The Devils are going to wring every last cent out of that 15-year contract.
- Brodeur, in NHL game number 1,200, moved his all-time record to 662-372-105-60.
- The Penguins essentially lost this game on special teams, where they contributed to the Devils' win with more than a handful of careless penalties. It's the second time in three games the Penguins have let their game turn into a zebra show, allowing (but killing) seven power play opportunities for the Islanders Tuesday. The Penguins now have 19 minor penalties against in their last two road games.
- Zach Boychuk hasn't done much to stick on the Pens' second line, which continues to be pedestrian at even-strength. He has yet to earn a point with the Pens despite seeing good scoring chances Saturday and throughout his six games with the club.
- Despite missing Kris Letang (2 games, lower body) and Matt Niskanen (7 games, lower body), the Penguins' young blue liners have stepped up in their absence. Simon Despres had another strong game in New Jersey, as did fellow rookie Robert Bortuzzo and Penguins newcomer Dylan Reese. Despres and Bortuzzo had 17:18 and 15:02 TOI, respectively, earning more ice time and time in bigger situations with every game. When Letang and Niskanen return from injury, it's going to be difficult to send Despres back down to the minors (Bortuzzo is waiver eligible and has zero chance of clearing back to Wilkes-Barre after his showing through six games).
Tomas Vokoun and Johan Hedburg will be the starters for Sunday's game in Pittsburgh.