Brodeur, Devils rely on winning formula in victory over Penguins
NEWARK, N.J. — If Sunday's 5-2 loss at New Jersey felt familiar, that's because it was.
The Penguins followed the same script at Prudential Center: Fall behind early, watch the Devils create a shell around goaltender Martin Brodeur, fail to complete comeback.
The Penguins have lost seven of eight games in this building and have scored 15 goals in their past 11 trips to New Jersey. One of those was an empty-net goal by defenseman Paul Martin, whose struggles continued Sunday when he was victimized for a short-handed goal.
"They aren't the kind of team that blows many leads," said Penguins defenseman Matt Niskanen, who got the Penguins their first goal with his third of the season.
Of course, by the time Niskanen scored, the Devils had taken a 3-0 lead.
"We just weren't good enough today," Penguins right wing Craig Adams said. "We kind of handed them a couple of goals. It made for a tough afternoon, and it doesn't help when you get behind against them. If I remember correctly, we get behind a lot against this team."
Getting behind against the Devils has been a really bad idea for a generation, and the Penguins have allowed the first goal in this building on four straight occasions. They've lost all four games.
Always among the league's best defensive teams and boasting the NHL's all-time leader in victories between the pipes, coming back against the Devils has always been daunting and rarely been successful.
"We just put ourselves in a big hole," said Penguins center Joe Vitale, who was guilty of two penalties. "Give them credit. They played well, but we didn't. It was a combination."
New Jersey star Ilya Kovalchuk has feasted on the Penguins in this building during the past two seasons. He scored an overtime game-winner last March against the Penguins at Prudential Center and produced a goal and two assists in the Devils' 3-1 win over the Penguins on New Year's Eve. Kovalchuk again produced a goal and two assists in this game, and he didn't need much time to inflict damage on the Penguins.
He scored 2:21 into regulation, set up defenseman Anton Volchenkov's goal halfway through the opening period, and then stripped Martin and set up center Dainius Zubrus' short-handed goal early in the second. Goalie Marc-Andre Fleury was yanked at that point,although the second and third goals were hardly his responsibility.
"We weren't very good away from the puck," Penguins coach Dan Bylsma said. "We gave them a couple of opportunities, and obviously they capitalized on them."
While the Penguins' sluggish first period and overall sloppy play is probably most attributable to the loss, Brodeur's performance shouldn't be overlooked. He made a terrific save on right wing James Neal when the Penguins only trailed by two in the third period. Also, his ability to handle the puck — Fleury's poor stick-handling led to Kovalchuk's goal — made it difficult for the Penguins to generate a forecheck.
"They've been known for their ability to protect leads for a really long time," Niskanen said. "It all starts with Brodeur."
The Penguins will finish their three-game road trip Tuesday night against another team that gives them fits, the Montreal Canadiens.
In the back of their minds, though know one more trip to New Jersey remains on the schedule. And to win that contest, repeating the formula of starting slowing and trying to catch up against the ultimate frontrunning team won't work.
"They play a patient game," Adams said. "When you get behind by a couple of goals, your tendency is to start pushing for things. And that's not the way to do it."
Testing Brodeur during their numerous comeback attempts against the Devils in recent years simply isn't working.
"Definitely not," center Cal O'Reilly said. "He's still got it."
He's got the Penguins' number, too.
Devils, 1-0 (2:21): With G Marc-Andre Fleury momentarily out of position while attempting to handle the puck behind the net, C Patrik Elias and RW Zach Parise helped produce a turnover. Elias then fired a pass from behind the net to LW Ilya Kovalchuk, who found himself open in front of the net and beat Fleury.
Devils, 2-0 (9:33): While on a four-on-two rush, the puck eventually found Kovalchuk, who was skating down the left wing. Fleury challenged Kovalchuk, who then fired a centering pass to D Anton Volchenkov, who fired a shot from the slot for his first goal of the season.
Devils, 3-0 (2:28): With the Penguins working on the power play, Kovalchuk forced D Paul Martin into a turnover. Kovalchuk eventually barged to the Penguins' net, and though he was unable to beat Fleury, C Dainus Zubrus was there to bang in the rebound.
Penguins, 3-1 (3:02): C Cal O'Reilly, while standing in the right circle, located D Matt Niskanen, who fired a shot from just inside the center point that beat G Martin Brodeur to the stick side.
Devils, 4-1 (11:22): G Brent Johnson appeared to have the puck frozen against the post, but instead, Parise found the loose puck and jammed it in.
Penguins, 4-2 (11:43): While on a power play, C Evgeni Malkin cut toward the net from a bad angle, used a curl-and-drag move around defenseman Andy Greene, and then fired a shot between Brodeur's legs.
Devils, 5-2 (19:13): Brodeur launched a lead pass over the heads of the Penguins' defense, and RW David Clarkson was the first man to the puck. He scored into an empty net for his 20th goal of the season.