The Devils entered tonight’s game desperate for a consistent effort and two points. The team went up against their division rivals, the Pittsburgh Penguins, who hadn’t lost a regulation game in their past ten contests. While the Devils put forth a consistent effort, it was the same losing effort. The Penguins defeated the Devils, 2-1, sending New Jersey to their sixth straight road loss.
Sidney Crosby Sinks The Devils
There’s one name that makes Devils fans instantly feel nervous and angry at once – Sidney Crosby. Coming into tonight’s contest, the Penguins captain recorded 35 points (17 goals, 18 assists) in 33 career games against the Devils. Crosby carried a 15-game point streak into the matchup as well. And in only two periods, Crosby collected two points – including the game-winning goal – to sink the Devils.
Crosby’s first point of the night – an assist – helped even the game, 1-1. The Penguins moved through the neutral zone, and didn’t look to have anything developing. A cross-ice pass was tipped by Adam Mair, but Crosby used his back skate to kick the puck to his stick blade. The Penguins’ captain then moved down into the Devils’ zone along the side boards. He passed across the ice to Pascal Dupuis, who fired a one-timer past Johan Hedberg for his eighth goal of the year.
Crosby’s second point of the night proved to be the game-winning goal. With the puck in the Devils’ zone, Alex Goligoski drove to the faceoff circle and shot the puck. Hedberg made the initial save, but the puck caromed off his pads and to the side of the net. Crosby, all alone, dropped to one knee and fired the puck into the open net for his 24th goal of the season.
Crosby was the reason the Devils lost tonight. As much as fans despise him, he’s virtually unstoppable right now.
The Devils’ Powerplay Shows Life
One of the Devils’ major problems during the season has been the powerplay. It’s been especially dreadful on the road, where the team had one powerplay tally prior to Saturday’s game against Philadelphia. But New Jersey went 2-for-3 against the Flyers, and that solid play continued against the Penguins, accounting for their only goal of the night.
With Dupuis in the box for hooking during the first period, Mattias Tedenby controlled the puck and brought it around the net. The rookie right-winger moved from behind the net and found a streaking Jason Arnott entering the Penguins zone. Arnott one-timed the pass, but the shot went wide right. The puck hit Brian Rolston, but the left-winger stayed with the puck and fired home the shot for his second goal of the season.
For all of the man-advantage struggles, the Devils have shown improvement the past two games. Their 3-for-7, good for about 43 percent. Combine that with better numbers at home, and the Devils powerplay is showing improvement.
John MacLean’s Swan Song?
The Devils needed a win tonight, plain and simple. Another loss meant yet another losing streak and another loss against a quality opponent. As its been all year, the Devils failed to capitalize on opportunities and allowed other teams to dominate games. Instead of stretching leads, the Devils watched them slip away. They couldn’t get anything going, and it might have cost their coach his job.
As I posted here, I don’t believe MacLean should get the axe. Two weeks ago, this team looked like it was turning a corner. But since winning three of four two weeks ago, the Devils dropped three straight. They haven’t shown any signs of a turnaround under MacLean. The team has three days off before they face Ottawa. General manager Lou Lamoriello may feel this is the best time to change coaches.
For the rest of the recap, follow after the jump.
The Penguins lead the Devils, 2-1, in the third period of their game tonight at the CONSOL Energy Center.
Sidney Crosby almost scored his second goal of the night at 12:21 of the third period. Crosby sent a wrist shot over the glove of Johan Hedberg, put the puck hit the pipe and came out into the slot.
David Clarkson and Deryk Engelland dropped the gloves at 14:31 of the period. The scrap started because of a hit Clarkson put on Engelland in the Penguins zone. Engelland landed some solid right hooks, but Clarkson dragged the defenseman down to end the fight.
Hedberg stoned Kris Letang to hold the deficit at one. With Rod Pelley in the box for delay of game, Letang sprung free in New Jersey’s defensive zone. The defenseman drove the net and shot low into the pads. Hedberg made the save, then absorbed the hit from Letang when he crashed the crease.
The Penguins lead in shots, 27-18. Pittsburgh, already 0-for-4 with the man advantage tonight, will have 1:09 remaining on their fifth powerplay opportunity, a tripping minor to Dainius Zubrus, to begin the third period.
Travis Zajac nearly tied the game with 4:55 left in the middle period. Jamie Langenbrunner stripped former teammate Paul Martin in the neutral zone and joined Zajac for a 2-on-1 rush. The captain passed the puck to Zajac, who cut toward the front of the net. He moved across the crease, looking to backhand a shot past the blocker of Marc-Andre Fleury. Penguins defenseman Zybynek Michalek ended the chance, knocking the puck off Zajac’s stick.
Shortly after that, Fleury stoned a Dainius Zubrus attempt from the slot. The Devils’ center skated the puck into the slot and fired a shot glove side. Fleury gloved the attempt and held on for the whistle.
Crosby’s goal at 12:49 of the second period put the Penguins ahead, 2-1.
Alex Goligosky drove the net in the Devils zone, putting a shot on Hedberg. The Devils’ goalie blocked the initial shot, but a rebound caromed off his pads and to the left of goal. Crosby, who was all alone at the side of the net, went to one knee and hammered home the shot for his 24th goal of the season.
Crosby now has two points tonight (one goal, one assist). He’s been averaging two points per game during his 16-game point streak.
Colin White should take the blame for that goal. He left Crosby all alone to come to the front of the net. I don’t know if there was a breakdown in communication, but you don’t ever leave Crosby alone near your net.
I’m not sure what the ice conditions are like at the Penguins new arena, but it looks choppy here in the second period. Several pucks have bounced over sticks, and players from both teams are wiping out on the ice.
Pascal Dupuis had an opportunity for his second goal of the game only 33 seconds into the second period. White tried to shoot the puck off a faceoff in the Penguins zone, but the puck was blocked to the neutral zone. Dupuis raced ahead of the defense and broke in on a short breakaway. Hedberg came out to challenge, and turned away the scoring chance.
The Penguins outshot the Devils, 16-8, in that first period. Pittsburgh also had three powerplay opportunties, generating six shots. The Devils were able to kill off all three opportunities.
An early whistle cost the Devils a chance for a rebound opportunity with 25 seconds left in the period. The refs blew the play dead after it appeared Fleury stopped and held a shot. But the puck trickled behind the Penguins goalie and sat all alone in the crease.
Zubrus had a beautiful scoring opportunity denied with less than a minute left in the first period. The center caused a turnover in the Penguins zone and drove the net. He couldn’t keep the puck on his stick, and missed out on an opportunity to put a shot on net.
Dupuis’ goal at 15:41 of the first period pulled the Penguins even with the Devils, 1-1.
Crosby started the play in the neutral zone, kicking a loose puck from his back skate to the blade of his stick. The Penguins captain skated into the Devils zone along the side boards, and found Dupuis open in the middle of the Devils zone. Dupuis ripped a one-timer past Hedberg for his eighth goal of the year.
The assist stretched Crosby’s point streak to 16 games.
Brian Rolston’s powerplay goal at 14:20 of the first period put the Devils ahead, 1-0.
With Dupuis in the box for hooking, Mattias Tedenby curled behind the Penguins net with possession of the puck. He came up to the side boards and passed the puck to Jason Arnott, who was streaking into the zone. The center blasted a shot toward net that went wide right. The puck hit Rolston, and the left-winger corralled the loose puck and fired it home for his second goal of the season.
Tonight’s Matchup: The New Jersey Devils (8-16-2) face off against the Pittsburgh Penguins (18-8-2) tonight at the CONSOL Energy Center. It’s the second of six meetings between the two teams this season. The Penguins lead the current season series, 1-0-0.
The Last Devils Game: The Philadelphia Flyers defeated the Devils, 5-3, Saturday afternoon in Philadelphia. New Jersey jumped out to a 2-1 lead after one period. But the Flyers fought back, scoring three straight goals between the second and third periods to take a 4-3 lead. The Devils cut the deficit to one, but couldn’t tie the game late in the final period.
The Last Penguins Game: The Penguins destroyed the Columbus Blue Jackets, 7-2, Saturday night in Pittsburgh. The Pens scored four goals in the first period – including two on the powerplay – to lead 4-0 after the first period. The Pens put the Blue Jackets away, scoring three goals over the final two periods.
The Last Devils – Penguins Game: The Penguins beat the Devils, 3-1, on October 10 at the Prudential Center. The Devils, playing with 15 skaters because of injury, fell behind, 1-0, after Alex Goligosky scored a first period goal. Mark Letestu extended the lead to 2-0 in the second period. Patrik Elias cut the deficit to 2-1 in the third period, but the Devils couldn’t tie the game. Ex-Devil Paul Martin clinched the win with an empty-netter.
Stepping Out of the Igloo: The Devils will play their first game in the CONSOL Energy Center. The Mellon Arena, or the “Igloo”, will suffer the same fate as the Spectrum in Philadelphia. The Penguins new digs are LEED gold-certified and was voted one of the best arenas in all of sports.
Tonight’s Matchup: The game features two teams going in two very different directions. After struggling early, the Penguins caught fire. In their last ten games, Pittsburgh is 9-0-1, earning 19 of a possible 20 points. Marc-Andre Fleury has allowed two goals or less in his last 11 games, and Sidney Crosby has 17 goals and 14 assists on his current point streak.
The Devils, on the other hand, are trending in the wrong direction. After winning three of four games two weeks ago, the team dropped two in a row. It’s been feast or famine offensively, and the defense plays suspect. Inconsistent efforts doomed New Jersey, especially in the second period of games.
Devils’ captain Jamie Langenbrunner acknowledged that another poor effort could lead to a blowout loss.
“When you face a team like that, you have to be at your best or they embarrass you,” Langenbrunner said to Tom Gulitti of the Bergen Record. “I think if we go in with any mindset other than that, it will get ugly.”
The key for tonight’s game is simple – consistency. As Langenbrunner said above, the Devils need a sixty minute effort tonight. If they slip up for one shift, it can cost them the game. New Jersey can’t give Pittsburgh any extra opportunities. The Devils need to limit the turnovers and give the effort their capable of giving. Pittsburgh is playing unreal hockey right now, and allowing them to capitalize on mistakes will doom the Devils. A win over their rivals would be huge, but it won’t come easy. A consistent effort throughout the game will go a long way towards getting the Devils a much-needed victory tonight.
Gametime is 7 p.m., and you can catch all the action on MSG Plus or WFAN 660AM. Here is the projected lineup for tonight’s game:
FORWARDS: Ilya Kovalchuk – Travis Zajac – Jamie Langenbrunner; Patrik Elias – Jason Arnott – Dainius Zubrus; Brian Rolston – Adam Mair – David Clarkson; Mattias Tedenby – Rod Pelley
DEFENSEMEN: Colin White – Henrik Tallinder; Andy Greene – Mark Fayne; Anton Volchenkov – Olivier Magnan; Matt Corrente
GOALIES: Johan Hedberg; Martin Brodeur
There are several words to describe John MacLean’s first season as Devils’ head coach.
His team continuously turns in inconsistent performances. The offense is terrible, the injuries are unfortunate, and the bounces have been unlucky. MacLean, who led the Devils AHL affiliate to the playoffs last season, can’t figure out how to get his team rolling. New Jersey currently resides in the league’s basement (29th out of 30 teams) and 13 points out a playoff spot in the Eastern Conference. Their goal differential sits at -30, tied with the New York Islanders for worst in the league. The Devils continue to play below their talent level and are one of the biggest busts of the early NHL season.
As the situation grows bleak, speculation grows that MacLean will lose his job. The head coach acknowledged those rumors today at practice.
“I can’t let any of that stuff enter into my mind,” MacLean said to Tom Gulitti of the Bergen Record. “That stuff is out here (holding his right hand out away from him). No control over that. I have control over coming to the rink every day, running practice, the games and making the decisions to try and help us win.”
While the easy solution would be firing MacLean, it’s not the best solution. The coach has struggled, but it’s been a perfect storm of unfortunate consequences that led the team to this point. Someone needs to be held responsible for the team’s performance, but it shouldn’t squarely fall on the shoulders of MacLean. Here are some other factors contributing to the Devils miserable performance thus far:
The Devils haven’t played with a healthy roster since training camp. During the season, several key players missed significant time. New Jersey played without scorers Brian Rolston (14 games) and Jamie Langenbrunner (eight games). They also lost defenseman Anton Volchenkov for 12 games, Matt Taormina for nine games (and counting) and Martin Brodeur missed nine games (and counting) with a nagging elbow injury. The team also lost Zach Parise to knee surgery and Bryce Salvador to a concussion.
That’s a long laundry list of important players. In their places, the Devils turned to unproven rookies and minor role players. That never allowed the lines to develop chemistry. It handcuffed the coaching staff and limited their ability to do much of anything. Other players haven’t stepped up, and maybe the coaches didn’t adapt well. But injuries are a major factor into this team’s struggles.
2. Team Wide Slumps
Contributing to the struggles is the team-wide slump affecting every single player. Ilya Kovalchuk is the poster boy for this crippling inconsistency. A proven goal scorer, Kovalchuk has five – FIVE – goals during the season. Jason Arnott only has nine goals, Patrik Elias has four, and Travis Zajac scored only three times. The Devils have received little production from the blue line as well.
It’s not only the offense. Brodeur is on pace for career lows in goals-against average (2.74) and save percentage (.901). As I stated above, the future Hall-of-Famer has battled a nagging elbow injury, reducing his ability to play consistent hockey.
Once again, the inconsistent play and team-wide slumps can’t fully be credited to MacLean. He can’t score the goals or make the necessary plays. The team’s play will only be as good as the players executing the system. Clearly, his players haven’t lived up to their end of the bargain.