The Penguins stumbled out the gates against the New Jersey Devils and then watched a game slip away against the New Jersey Devils.
In essence, the game probably was about decided before the very first television timeout in the first period. The Devils struck three times in the first 6:44 of the game, and also got a bit of good luck along the way when a Bryan Rust shot hit the post to prevent the Pens from staying close in the early stages.
It was a rough night for the Pens’ second defensive pair, with John Marino on the ice for all of the Devils first four goals. Marcus Pettersson was out there for three of them, several times with his usually sturdy positional play letting him down.
On the New Jersey first goal, as illustrated by AT&T Sportsnet’s Jay Caufield, Pettersson got caught a step slow on his cross-over skating move as NJ advanced up the ice. That turned into a 2-on-1 rush, which Marino defended well and forced the puck to the outside. Unfortunately for the Pens, and in a show of signs to come, some bad puck luck would occur in the ensuing scramble with the rubber clicking off of Danton Heinen and right to Jesper Bratt to smack into the net and open the scoring just 1:16 into the game.
The bad breaks would continue with Rust’s clean shot off the iron that could have tied the game. It didn’t and New Jersey capitalized on more sloppy play with Evan Rodrigues’ clearing effort finding the stick of Bratt again for his second goal of the evening.
Jesp so happy you’re back, Jesper. pic.twitter.com/foZLCjAJTS— New Jersey Devils (@NJDevils) February 25, 2022
With the Pens rightly wondering what had happened, things went from bad to worse. Pettersson wiped out with the puck and couldn’t clear the zone. Before he could recover, Yegor Sharangovich was left unmarked right in front of the net for a goal just 57 seconds after Bratt’s second goal to make it 3-0.
If you leave Yegor alone in front, YOU’RE GONNA HAVE A BAD TIME. pic.twitter.com/Tue9IOFzu3— New Jersey Devils (@NJDevils) February 25, 2022
At this point, coach Mike Sullivan used his timeout to settle the game down and it did seemed to stop the momentum. The Pens got off their heels but found a new issue in the growing confidence of rookie goalie Nico Daws, who recorded 13 first period saves to keep Pittsburgh off the board early.
The second period was Penguin domination, they snapped off the first 11 shots of the second but couldn’t solve Daws. The Devils received a gift in the form of a Pettersson turnover behind the net to Jack Hughes. Hughes quickly got the puck centered for rookie Dawson Mercer to snap past Tristan Jarry and widen the lead to 4-0.
Mercer put the boys up by 4! pic.twitter.com/UOPj5ZEfK1— New Jersey Devils (@NJDevils) February 25, 2022
The inspired play of Evgeni Malkin got the Pens on the board on the power play. Malkin hunted down a puck, raced up the ice and fed Sidney Crosby on the blueline. Crosby hit Malkin with a pass with his speed in tact, and after a great move to pull the pass from his skate to his stick, Malkin quickly shot one by Daws to make it 4-1.
In 61 career games vs. New Jersey, Evgeni Malkin has recorded 58 points (24G-34A), ranking third in scoring among all active players. pic.twitter.com/W3p8LF1wlW— Pittsburgh Penguins (@penguins) February 25, 2022
Just a few minutes later though, New Jersey would re-establish their four goal lead on the power play. Damon Severson shot from distance and Jarry was screened and couldn’t stop a shot he didn’t see and that ended his night in favor of backup Casey DeSmith.
The third period was mostly throwaway time, and frustration penalties mounted for the Pens. Crosby went to the box for cross-checking, in a response to getting elbowed in the head. Jeff Carter soon joined him with a double-minor for a high-sticking penalty and the Devils made it a 6-1 score on the ensuing power play.
- Really ugly night for Pettersson, his name is all over the recap and not for good reasons. There are always lots of factors that add up to goals against, but his level of play tonight was brutally poor. After the turnover on the Mercer goal in the second period, Pettersson was benched for a over a period until a shift with 7 minutes left in the game as they were playing out the stretch.
- Probably the only bright spot for Pittsburgh was the play of Malkin. He was their best player out there, which isn’t saying a lot, but at least showed some engagement and made a play. Even for him, his goal was his only shot on goal on the evening.
- The coaching adjustments of the night were to use the timeout, make the goalie change, Pettersson getting almost completely benched, in the third period Jeff Carter was with Evan Rodrigues and Brock McGinn (bumping Kasperi Kapanen up to play with Malkin), but no buttons pushed could stem the tide of what happened.
- Daws was really, really good in this game, particularly in the first 40 minutes stopping 26/27 shots and making a bevy of impressive stops.
- As often happens in a lopsided game, the score is fairly indicative of which team got a bounce or two along the way. Add in a couple of saves made and pretty much every break went NJ’s way. That, of course, was augmented by the Pens not being very sharp and getting burned for it.
- The Devils also just seem like they always play the Pens tough, even when Jersey is bad, or it’s later in the year. That’s probably not really all that timely or accurate (Pittsburgh was 11-3-1 in the last 15 games against NJ entering tonight, and 4-1-1 in the last six at home) but it certainly feels like NJ is always a tough out for the Pens. This season the series ends up at 2-2-0 for each team.
- If they could replay that first 6:44 (or maybe even first 30ish minutes) and being down 3-0 would be about the worst case scenario for the Pens. Always frustrating when it’s “one of those nights”, but it was again one of those nights. And now that makes a three-game losing streak for Pittsburgh with a host of difficult games in the near future.
Well, this one wasn’t fun, but the Pens will have to answer to going through some of this adversity in what now becomes an even bigger game on Saturday afternoon against the visiting Rangers