Penguins fall behind again, lose to Devils
NEWARK, N.J. — The Penguins have an identity.
Be hard on the forecheck.
Make good decisions with the puck.
Play a 200-foot game.
Attack with speed.
Those postulates are repeated so often, they’re almost as much of the brand for this organization as its black and yellow jerseys.
As of late, another attribute has become a significant, albeit undesirable, part of their identity.
Giving up the first lead of a game.
The Penguins failed to score first for the sixth consecutive outing and they chased the New Jersey Devils throughout the bulk a 2-1 loss at the Prudential Center on Friday.
For a team hobbled with injuries to star forward Sidney Crosby and defenseman Kris Letang, and now potentially forward Nick Bjugstad, who left the contest in the second period with an undisclosed ailment, it’s a tough way to play hockey.
“It just comes down to coming out and (being) hard to play the first 20 minutes,” said forward Jared McCann. “We’ve had a lot of chances. (Stuff) hasn’t really been going our way, to be honest with you. It’s frustrating, but we’re not going to get down ourselves. We’re going to stay positive and get through it.”
The Penguins are positive they are playing the right way. They emphasized that point repeatedly after Friday’s defeat.
“I thought we played a strong game,” coach Mike Sullivan said. “We had a solid game start to finish. Both goals (against) were fluky goals. We generated a fair amount of quality scoring chances. We defended hard. Our penalty kill was strong against. Our power play had some pretty good looks. You can’t always control when the puck goes in the net. But I thought our guys played hard. Our guys played smart. We just didn’t find the back of the net enough.”
The Penguins only found the rear of the Devils’ cage once due in part to a power play which continues to falter. After breaking an 0-for-28 skid with the man advantage in Tuesday’s 3-2 overtime road loss to New York Rangers, the Penguins failed to convert the three power-play opportunities they were afforded on Friday.
Still, they found satisfaction with the method rather than the results (or lack thereof).
“We try to stay positive,” said forward Evgeni Malkin. “It’s not fun. We have so many chances. But we’re working. We practiced it (Thursday). We hope some games we’ll score a couple of goals and start to play better. It’s not fun, but we need to play better. More shots, more simple. Again, stay positive. Try to score the next game.
The Devils, who entered the contest last in the Metropolitan Division, saw their hopes realized fairly early in regulation at 6:59 of the first period when forward Travis Zajac converted a turnover behind the cage by Penguins defenseman Brian Dumoulin into a goal.
It was a 2-0 game late in the second period at the 19:55 mark. Penguins defenseman John Marino fumbled a puck at the offensive blue line, allowing Devils forward Blake Coleman to push it up ice.
Coleman chucked a seemingly harmless wrister from the left wall on net, where goaltender Matt Murray stopped it but overplayed the rebound, which sat to the left of the crease. Coleman raced Marino for the loose puck and forced him to inadvertently push it into this own cage.
”I’ve got to be better if we’re going to win that game,” Murray said.
The Penguins’ lone goal came from an unlikely source when defenseman Jack Johnson wired a wrister from the left circle past goaltender MacKenzie Blackwood’s glove on the far side eight minutes into the third. It was Johnson’s first score in 91 games.
They won’t have much time to dwell over this setback as they host the Toronto Maple Leafs at PPG Paints Arena on Saturday. Presumably, they would like to claim the initial lead of a game for the first time since Oct. 29.
“It drains you,” McCann said of playing with a deficit. “There’s no other way to put it. It drains you. We’ve got to find a way to get over it.”
Seth Rorabaugh is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Seth by email at [email protected] or via Twitter .