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Penguins close out the year with loss in New Jersey

| Sunday, Jan. 1, 2012

NEWARK, N.J. -- Dan Bylsma mentioned Friday that he wasn't a big fan of New Year's Eve, because plans on that evening never live up to expectations.

The officiating in the Penguins' 3-1 loss to New Jersey didn't live up to the coach's expectations, either.

Numerous calls went against the frustrated Penguins, who lost two more players to injuries while losing another game against one of the Eastern Conference's best teams. The Penguins are 3-8 against teams in the East that would currently qualify for the postseason.

The game was lost in the first period when the Devils received a goal from left wing Ilya Kovalchuk on a penalty shot and a five-on-three goal from center David Clarkson. Both situations leading up to the goals were not without controversy.

"We had spent a considerable sum of energy with the referees and killing those penalties," Bylsma said of his team's inability to rebound from the early 2-0 deficit.

Kovalchuk was awarded a penalty shot when referee Kyle Rehman ruled Penguins defenseman Brooks Orpik covered the puck with his glove in the goal crease.

"I know what the rules are with calling penalty shots," Bylsma said. "I didn't see it on the ice. I assume he thought he saw something."

Orpik admitted to being unsure of exactly what took place, but he seemed surprised by the ruling.

"It happened so quick," he said. "I thought I just swept it out."

When goalie Marc-Andre Fleury, who stopped 18 of 20 shots, heard a whistle, he thought New Jersey was going to be called for goaltender interference.

"I couldn't get back into the play," Fleury said. "Got knocked down."

The Penguins' problems with officials Reyman and Paul Devorski were only beginning.

Later in the first period, right wing Arron Asham, who later left the game with a lower-body injury, was dumped behind New Jersey's net on a hit from behind. No penalty was called, and an angry Asham then charged into the play and was tagged with a high-sticking penalty. Before play resumed, Asham was then given an additional penalty for complaining about the call.

Only 25 seconds later, center Jordan Staal was called for slashing, giving the Devils a lengthy two-man advantage.

Bylsma simply shook his head when asked about the additional two minutes that Asham received, a strong indication that the coach disagreed with the call.

Clarkson scored to make it 2-0 in the final minute of the first period. The Penguins played the remainder of the game without forward Pascal Dupuis, who left with an injury.

"We know how dangerous New Jersey's power play is," defenseman Ben Lovejoy said. "We just lost our composure a couple of times, took some penalties that are uncharacteristic of our team. We pride ourselves on being disciplined. It's tough falling behind that team and that goalie."

The Devils and goalie Martin Brodeur, who stopped 29 of 30 shots, have been winning low-scoring games for a generation and managed to hold on even though the Penguins clearly controlled the final 30 minutes. Left wing Chris Kunitz scored midway through the third period, and Brodeur's brilliant save on left wing Matt Cooke late in the third slowed the Penguins' surge.

The Penguins were not unhappy with how they played.

"I thought we played great in the first period," Orpik said. "It was just the penalties that caused us trouble. When we stayed out of the box, we were pretty happy with how we played. The penalties gave them momentum."

The Penguins are off for the next five days before returning to action Friday night in a showdown against the red-hot New York Rangers at Consol Energy Center.

Additional Information:

Costly mistakes

Mistakes in the first period cost the Penguins in New Jersey on Saturday:

• 14:43: Brooks Orpik is called for closing his glove on the puck in the crease.

• 17:57: Arron Asham receives four minutes of penalties following a controversial sequence.

• 18:22: Jordan Staal?s penalty puts the Penguins down by two men for 1:35.

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