For the final two periods Friday night the Devils completely outplayed the Pittsburgh Penguins in every aspect of the game. They dominated the shots on goal 32-11, and didn’t allow the high powered Penguins’ offense to score a goal, while they cashed in for two of their own. The Devils played like a team who could compete for a top spot in the Eastern Conference.
Unfortunately, the Devils were unable to erase a mistake filled the first period, and they lost by a score of 3-2.
Damien Brunner (Photo Credit: Gene J. Puskar/AP)
The first 20 minutes saw a Devils team that came out completely flat. They surrendered three goals, including a fluky one to Pascal Dupuis that Cory Schneider misplayed just 41 seconds into the game. The Devils were never able to generate any sustained pressure on offense, and the defense had a number of breakdowns that led to prime scoring opportunities. It appeared as though Metropolitan Division leading Penguins would cruise to an easy victory.
New Jersey managed to regroup during the first intermission, and got goals from Patrik Elias and Dainius Zubrus in the first five minutes to cut the deficit to one. They rode the momentum from the early goals for a majority of the game, and had a number of glorious chances to tie the score. Credit Marc-Andre Fleury for standing on his head, especially in the third period, to keep a swarming Devils offense from tying the game.
Despite a solid effort to finish the game, the NHL does not award points in the standings for moral victories. Inconsistency continues to plague this team, and it seems as though complete 60 minute efforts are few and far between. Too many times this season the Devils have either blown leads in the third period, or have a poor start to games that leave them just falling short in the end. For a team that normally struggles to score goals they cannot afford to spot any team in the league a three goal lead to start a game, and definitely not to a team like the Penguins who lead the Eastern Conference in goals per game.
The Devils have now lost five of their last six games to drop their record to 12-15-6, and are in seventh place in the Metropolitan Division. The last few games especially have seen them waste an opportunity for crucial points in the standings, but the reality of the situation is that they remain just three points out of third place in the division. With 49 games left in the season, there is more than enough time to turn things around. The season will ultimately boil down to whether or not this team can start to put together strong all around games on a consistent enough basis. They will get their first chance quickly, as they host the Tampa Bay Lighting (18-10-3, 3rd place in the Atlantic Division) Saturday night.
The offense has looked much better the past three games. They have scored a total of 10 goals, to go along with a handful of other outstanding chances.
After scoring twice in the last game against the Blue Jackets, Damien Brunner had another strong game. He had six shots on goal in 16:30 minutes of ice time. The Devils will get a huge boost if Brunner can continue to play this type of offensive game.
Eric Gelinas and Jon Merrill did not play well (specifically on the 2nd goal) and were split up for the first extended period of time since they were paired together. I wouldn’t look too much into this, considering their inexperience and going up against the highly skilled forwards the Penguins have.
Saturday’s game against Tampa Bay begins a three game home stand for the Devils. The Devils defeated the Lightning in their only other meeting this season 2-1, and the Lightning have lost four of their last six games.