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Recap: Odd man loss. Penguins burned early, often by Devils

It was not a pretty picture in Newark for the Pittsburgh Penguins who stumble, bumble and crumble to a 5-1 loss in an important game

Pittsburgh Penguins v New Jersey Devils Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images


Tristan Jarry is back in net but the Penguins are otherwise the same again in front of him.

And here is how the home-standing Devils look in their alternate “Christmas” jerseys.

First period

Pittsburgh has played a lot of shoddy periods of hockey this year, but this one is right up there with them all to start the game against the Devils. The Pens barely touch the puck, look more like disinterested observers rather than competitive members of the contest and it shows.

Pittsburgh gets the game’s first power play, it too is absolutely awful and can barely get in the zone through the four NJ defenders stacked at the blue line.

The Devils’ first goal comes from a benign looking play around the back of the net, all five of the Pens are tucked in tight to the goal. Bad news because Dougie Hamilton is out there and he’s good at scoring goals. A pass finds him and though Jarry gets some bad luck with a deflection off a stick, Hamilton had a lot of open net to shoot at and was likely to hit the net if he got it through. He did. 1-0.

Michael McLeod then launched Brian Dumoulin into the boards resulting in a heavy impact that left Dumoulin out of sorts for a bit. Scary play, no penalty was assessed and shockingly Dumoulin did not miss a shift.

Soon after it would be 2-0 NJ. Jeff Petry tried a pinch, no forwards were even close to covering and the Devils sprung on a 2-on-1 with two players that you do not want to defend that against. Nico Hischier delivered a perfect saucer pass over and around the defense of P.O. Joseph and it was an easy finish for Dawson Mercer to steer into the net. 2-0.

Mark Friedman bought the Pens a power play after feeling the wind of a high stick, but the NJ short-handed group came much closer to scoring in the sequence.

A very disheartening effort to start the game for Pittsburgh.

Second period

At the very start, Pittsburgh comes out strong. The Sidney Crosby line looks alive and plays in the o-zone, and then Evgeni Malkin follows it up with a chance of his own. Only to see Jason Zucker take a fairly marginal penalty as those start to even out to award NJ with their first crack at the power play. Pittsburgh almost gets out of it but Jeff Petry then joins Zucker in the box for flipping the puck over the glass.

New Jersey’s 5v3 picks apart the Pens’ limited defenders and Jack Hughes puts a shot on net that Timo Meier can easily tip in. 3-0. And they scored before the first penalty ended, leaving a long 5v4 to remain.

Just as soon as NJ’s power play ends, they get caught with too many players on the ice. And not on a bad change, they literally have six skaters trying to score on the power play. It doesn’t go well.

From there when the Devils aren’t toying with the Penguins, Mikael Granlund actually makes a sighting. He fires one shot past Vitek Vanecek but off the post. Shifts later, Granlund fires a nice stop that requires Vanecek to make a quality stop.

The Diablos get one more for the road, after Jake Guentzel whistles a shot high and wide on the next shift NJ strikes. NJ shoots from long range, Jarry gets it but bobbles the puck away trying to shuffle it from his stick to his glove. It doesn’t go as planned, Dawson Mercer receives the gift and punches home his second of the game. 4-0.

Third period

The game continues, the Pens sell out to play offense which is a bad idea that leads to a 5-on-1 rush against. Which has to be some sort of record. No one skates back all that hard either and on NJ’s third crack at it they get the puck to Mercer again standing in front of the net for an easy finish. 5-0.

The Penguins do the least they can do by breaking up the shutout. Joseph keeps a play onside and flings the puck to the net. Bryan Rust atones for his poor backcheck on the previous goal to tip one in past Vanecek. 5-1.

Luckily that’s it for the meaningful moments of this game.

Some thoughts

  • It was more fun to watch the Pirates tonight. That’s unspeakably bad and almost impossible to imagine in this era. The Penguins are painful.
  • Maybe we should have seen it coming with the Devils coming off a 6-1 loss of their own in their previous game to Winnipeg. NJ wasn’t about to let that happen again, and the Pens were only barely in their way.
  • By my eye it took until under 2 minutes left in the second before any sort of line shuffles, where they put a Guentzel-Crosby-Malkin line together. Almost paid off too but not quite. Not even sure that’s a coaching critique, maybe Sullivan was as stunned as anyone to figure that any changes wouldn’t necessarily improve how it was going, given that no one was meriting much of a reason for more. No changes of any note for the third period either, other than special teams fluctuations.
  • Jarry’s play on the fourth goal summed up his night. Maybe it was due to bombardment, maybe he’s healthy, who knows, but he just never looked comfortable in this game - even from the beginning with how he played the Hamilton first goal. He looks awkward and clunky at times, like he did turning a routine freezing of the puck into a goal against. It’s hard to tell exactly what isn’t right with him, yet easy to see that something clearly isn’t.
  • That said, and it should go without saying, the Penguins had a lot more problems than their goaltending tonight. They didn’t come close to playing anything that even was in the ballpark of winning NHL hockey. It could well be that the Devils are just better than them (and surely they are) but the fight, the general interest to give it a go, none of that was there.
  • NJ knows perfectly how to stack four PK’ers on the blueline and that the Pens simply are unwilling or unable to defeat that look. It’s no secret since that’s the common and standard defensive posture now to defend power play rushes, but the Devils do it as well as anyone.
  • It was a costly night: according to HockeyViz, the Pens entered the night with a 66% outlook on the playoffs. That took a -16% hit with Pittsburgh’s regulation loss and dropped three more with Florida winning against Buffalo tonight. With a win, the Pens’ chances would have went up double-digits. A stunningly brutal night in all regards

Four more games to go for the Pens, and at this point they need some sort of wake up call to get it in gear. Given that most of their problems are merely extensions of issues that have plagued them since the very beginning of the season, there can’t be much confidence right now coming off of this result. However, each new day is a new opportunity.