Penguins bedeviled in New Jersey again behind early goal, tight defense

| Tuesday, Dec. 31, 2013, 3:50 p.m.

NEWARK, N.J. — Penguins coach Dan Bylsma has lost a divisional road game only 22 times in five years.

Nearly half of those losses have come against one team.

New Jersey's airtight defense and goaltender Martin Brodeur again silenced the high-scoring Penguins, winning a 2-1 decision Tuesday at Prudential Center.

The Penguins (29-12-1) mustered a season-low 20 shots, and while they misfired on a couple of golden opportunities, they were generally outplayed in a fashion that has become familiar over the years. New Jersey has kept the Penguins from producing 30 shots in all four meetings this season, with the home squad winning each time.

“It was pretty similar to other games here,” said Penguins captain Sidney Crosby, who set up defenseman Matt Niskanen's goal and now has points in 34 of 42 games this season. “We actually had some good chances that didn't go in, but yeah, it was pretty similar.”

The Penguins preach not falling behind against the Devils while playing in Newark. Such a scenario often becomes lethal, given New Jersey's long history of protecting even the smallest leads to perfection. Even so, it took only 98 seconds for Adam Henrique to convert on right wing James Neal's turnover and beat goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury, giving the Devils a lead they never would relinquish.

“You never want to come out sloppy, but we did,” Niskanen said. “It's just something that is really a problem in this building. They put the clamps down on you when they have a lead. They're so good with the lead, and they were again today.”

Bylsma acknowledged this game felt essentially the same as so many low-scoring setbacks. Still, he said the Penguins improved as the contest ensued. And they had their chances.

Center Brandon Sutter was unable to convert on a two-on-one in the third period, and center Jussi Jokinen hit the post.

“We really did make a good push in the second half of the game,” Niskanen said. “We started winning battles, playing with some jam. It just wasn't enough.”

It rarely is in Newark for these Penguins.

Bylsma's teams are 35-8-3 on the road against every other divisional opponent since 2009. However, on the road against the Devils, the Penguins are 2-10-1.

Bylsma wasn't delighted with how his team played in the opening 30 minutes — Crosby and Neal, among others, were guilty of glaring defensive zone turnovers — but the Penguins appeared on the verge of evening the game.

Not long after Henrique opened the scoring, Crosby won a battle behind New Jersey's net and, with Brodeur out of the cage, found a wide open Chris Kunitz. However, Kunitz, who collected the puck near his skates, was unable to hit the open target.

Such missed opportunities in New Jersey can serve as a bad omen.

“That was a big one for us,” Bylsma said. “It would have been an answer right back.”

Instead, the Penguins are still looking for an answer against the Devils.

They valiantly fought off all four of New Jersey's power plays — “They could have blown the game open at any of those moments,” Bylsma said — but didn't appear to have much left in the tank when they received their only power play with 4:48 remaining, producing only one shot.

Crosby admitted that going to work with a man advantage for the first time in a 55-minute span is difficult.

“I think it was pretty typical,” he said of the ineffectiveness. “Still, it was an opportunity. You've got to find a way.”

Bylsma simply shook his head following the game, again unable to will his team past the Devils.

“It went to script,” he said.

Josh Yohe is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at or via Twitter @JoshYohe_Trib.

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