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Recap: Penguins can’t quite finish another comeback, fall 3-2 to Devils

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The Penguins dig themselves another hole, and almost dig out of it...But almost doesn’t cut it, falling 3-2 to the New Jersey Devils

NHL: Pittsburgh Penguins at New Jersey Devils Vincent Carchietta-USA TODAY Sports

Pregame

The Penguins debut a much weakened lineup, with Evgeni Malkin departing for the IR. But John Marino is back for the first time since 3/9 and Frederick Gaudreau is making his Pittsburgh debut.

There is some drama for the Devils in pregame warmups. Their expected starting goalie, Mackenzie Blackwood, did not make it through warmups. Also, key player Pavel Zacha is unable to play as well.

First period

Slow start for the Pens, and you could feel a goal against building. A couple of icings led to Pittsburgh having a disjointed line, since they weren’t able to complete their change with Jake Guentzel on the ice with Evan Rodrigues and Kasperi Kapanen. Former No. 1 pick Jack Hughes makes the Pens pay mid-way through the first. Hughes wiggles away from the check of Rodrigues then Marino, he’s to an extreme angle and as a left hand shot doesn’t have a lot to shoot at. But shoot he still does, elevating the puck and getting a lot on it to ramp off Tristan Jarry’s shoulder and into the net. 1-0 New Jersey.

Pittsburgh gets the game’s first power play for a puck over the glass. They do very little with it as the awkwardness of Kasperi Kapanen playing the point continues.

The Pens play a bit better, shots are 5-1 in favor of the Pens AFTER Hughes scored, but there was only the one goal. 1-0 NJD.

Second period

Game ambles on, the Rodrigues line gets a net-scramble and Kapanen almost scores but the shot is blocked by the mass of humanity in front of the net.

The following shift the Pens almost build upon that but Bryan Rust grabs a hold of a Devil almost 200’ from his net, sending NJ to their first power play of the game. It doesn’t take long for them to cash in. They win the initial faceoff, play the puck around a bit and P.K. Subban unleashes a very hard slapshot from deep. The puck avoids the traffic in front and Jarry never tracked. 2-0 NJD.

Before the Devils’ goal announcement can be made, New Jersey scores again. Damon Severson shoots from outside and Kris Letang tries to block it, but he doesn’t get all of it and the puck flutters right over Jarry’s shoulder and into the net. 3-0 NJD and the wheels are coming off. Travis Zajac gets a piece of it too in front of the net and gets credit for the goal.

The Pens get one back before intermission, Rodrigues goes to work and the top power play cashes in. A Letang point shot is tipped from right in front by Jake Guentzel and Pittsburgh finally gets one by Scott Wedgewood with 12 seconds left in the second period. 3-1 NJD though.

Shots are 22 (!!) - 13 in favor of the Pens in the second period, and 31-24 Pittsburgh overall in the game.

Third period

The Pens keep trying but to no avail. With 2 minutes left Jarry goes to the bench for a 6v5 push. It pays off, a bit too late as Bryan Rust scores from distance with 4 seconds left to make it a 3-2 game, but unfortunately the clock runs out before the Pens can get any more. If this were a 65 minute game, the result might have been different. Alas, it is not.

Some thoughts

  • Lower centers for each team in tonight’s game: Mark Jankowski, Frederick Gaudreau, Mikhail Maltsev, Michael McLeod...NHL condensed season hockey: feel the excitement!
  • Also, if you think about it, isn’t “Mikhail Maltsev” and “Michael McLeod” really just about the exact same name, only from different origins?
  • As a final note on this, the Pens don’t have a great center depth chart right now, but with Zacha and Nico Hischier out, neither do the Devils. Not much of an excuse of even a disadvantage right now on paper, or certainly not as much as it could be against other teams...Especially when NJ loses their expected starting goalie in warmups.
  • Kapanen’s playing well, but with his skill-set it’s not doing anyone any favors to have him on the right point of the power play (in the Malkin spot). Kapanen does not look comfortable there, he’s not receiving the puck well, he doesn’t know what to do with it when he gets it. This probably isn’t going to work out, a coaching adjustment might as well happen now before the player ill-suited for the position continues to struggle.
  • One play that stood out is Scott Wedgewood had to deal with the screen of a 6’5 Anthony Angello and made a confident cut to his left to snag an incoming shot. That seems like the type of read that Pens’ goalies have had some difficulties with as of late.
  • Down many a key forward, the Pens’ defense was picking it up with their shots. As a group they had 14 shots on goal.
  • The NHL’s maddening inconsistencies on boarding continues after Brian Dumoulin pretty much cross-checked a dude from behind and flew him into the boards face first. No call. The officiating is tough to handle when it’s so far over the map. Dumoulin got away with one, but that’s the sort of hits that should be getting penalized, unlike clean, hard hits that just so happen to injure an opponent.
  • Wedgewood was the difference in the game. He made a lot of saves, and the Pens kept it simple and fired a lot on him. The xGF battle was heavily in Pittsburgh’s favor. They played well, except for a few slips in the second period and the Devils got some clutch goaltending to hold on after jumping out 3-0.
  • And, really, going down 3-0 is not going to work out in the NHL on most nights, even though the Pens have consistently been able to dig out of holes. But without so many top players, this isn’t a team that is going to be able to pull off too many multi-goal comebacks within a game. Let alone three and on the road and on a night where there weren’t many penalties on either side.

The Pens and Devils are back at it for two afternoon games this weekend. Ideally, Pittsburgh keeps chugging along and maybe picks up puck luck, a friendly post, something, anything positive.