For Pens, same old story vs. N.J.
The Penguins entered the season as Stanley Cup favorites, and many believed the New York Rangers were their equal in the Atlantic Division.
Dismissing the New Jersey Devils is never wise.
In a clinical performance against the Penguins, New Jersey swept a weekend series with a 3-1 victory Sunday at Consol Energy Center.
“They played a great game,” right wing Pascal Dupuis said. “They played a smart game. They actually played the game the way we want to play. We have to get to their level.”
The Penguins also would like to reach the Devils' spot in the Eastern Conference standings.
New Jersey has opened a three-point advantage over the Penguins in the Atlantic Division race and has a game in hand.
New Jersey's patience historically frustrates the Penguins and did again Sunday.
“They're a good team,” said captain Sidney Crosby, who was held pointless over the weekend after producing 10 points in his previous four games.
“They get every puck deep. They're strong on the puck. You've got to make sure you're committed defensively to get the puck out of your zone or you could spend a lot of time around your net. That's why they've had success in the past.”
They've certainly had success against Dan Bylsma, something few teams can claim. Since Bylsma was hired as coach in 2009, the Penguins are 38-21-4 against Atlantic Division rivals Philadelphia, the Rangers and New York Islanders.
Against the Devils, Bylsma's team is 9-12-1.
One of New Jersey's stars Sunday said he believes the Devils get under the Penguins' skin.
Former Penguins goalie Johan Hedberg stopped 23 of 24 shots and has been with the Devils long enough to know that their patient style counters the Penguins' desire to push the tempo.
“I think we do (frustrate them),” Hedberg said. “When we stick to our game plan, when we forecheck, when we don't turn pucks over, I think we do frustrate them.”
Hedberg also believes the Penguins may have been fatigued. They just finished a stretch that saw them play 11 games in 19 days, including six games in nine days. The Penguins are off until Wednesday, when they host Ottawa.
“I thought they looked a little tired,” Hedberg said. “They came at us in the first period, but we played our system after that.”
It's a system that has been giving the Penguins fits for years.
Employing a more methodical style, some Penguins said, might be necessary to defeat the Devils in future games. The teams meet once more, a late April game in Newark.
After the first 10 minutes in which the Penguins permitted just one shot, the Devils controlled the game. David Clarkson scored twice and Ilya Kovalchuk once for the Devils. Two of those goals came on two-on-ones — defenseman Paul Martin was trapped on one goal, Deryk Engelland on the other — as the Devils waited for opportunities to take advantage of the aggressive Penguins.
“We were all over them in the first period,” left wing Matt Cooke said. “They stayed patient. We didn't.”