Style points, surprisingly, do not exist in the NHL. Earning five of the past possible 14 points, the Devils continues to underwhelm, spinning their wheels in pursuit of a playoff berth.
“We have to win some of these games,” Martin Brodeur said. “No doubt about that.”
Last night, they were beaten 5-2 by the rampaging Penguins, 14-1-1 in their past 16 games, a juggernaut that has the entire NHL quaking.
Regardless of the quality of their conquerors, the Devils should be concerned, suffering their fifth loss (2-4-1) in seven games, managing 10 goals in that span. They scored twice last night, outshooting the Penguins 34-28, as they split the season series 3-3. Stuck on 90 points, the Devils (42-28-6) are in line for the sixth seed in the Eastern Conference with six games remaining.
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CRUNCH TIME: Penguins star Sidney Crosby, who has battled concussions, is toppled by Andy Greene during the Devils’ 5-2 loss last night in Pittsburgh.
“We have to get our game in order,” coach Pete DeBoer said. “I like us against anybody if we’re playing the right way.
“I’m worried about how we play. The standings will take care of themselves.”
The Devils were exposed on defense last night by the Penguins quick-quick tap-tap head-manning. Evgeni Malkin and Sidney Crosby each had a goal and an assist.
“You gain confidence by winning games, but there’s a difference between confidence and overconfidence,” said Crosby, who has two goals and 11 assists in seven games since returning from his most recent concussion-related absence.
“We’re so focused on playing the right way going into the playoffs. We all understand we can’t afford to look at our previous record.”
The victory pulled the Penguins within a point of the Rangers for the first seed in the East, with seven remaining games apiece and one meeting left April 5.
Perhaps the lone bright spot for the Devils was the return of Travis Zajac, who missed 67 of the first 75 games recovering from Achilles tendon surgery.
Zajac set up Ilya Kovalchuk’s goal that pulled the Devils within one in the third, and was a reminder of what he has meant to the team as its top center for years.
“Shaking off the rust a little bit,” Zajac said after playing 13:31. “I didn’t feel that bad.”
Patrik Elias said, “It’s great to have him back.”
Brodeur felt rotten after handing the Penguins the opening goal 1:04 into play. Malkin stole his clearing attempt behind the net and centered for Chris Kunitz’s 23rd into the open net.
Crosby gave that one back for Zach Parise’s 30th at 5:10. Behind the net, goalie Marc-Andre Fleury passed the puck left to Crosby, who immediately relayed in front, toward Ben Lovejoy, only to see Parise intercept and ram it into the open net.
Devils rookie Adam Larsson committed a costly giveaway when his breakout was picked off by Matt Cooke, who found Jordan Staal cruising netward to fire over Brodeur’s waffle with 55.3 seconds left in the first.
Brodeur held the Devils in it until Pascal Dupuis converted Craig Adams’ rebound off Crosby’s 2-on-1 pass at 15:24 of the second. Dupuis’ 10-game point streak is the longest current in the NHL.
Zajac gave the Devils their last hope by setting up Kovalchuk’s 32nd at 3:37 of the third. But Crosby reopened the Penguins’ two-goal lead 1:18 later, chipping the puck past Marek Zidlicky to score his fourth of the season on a breakaway, and Malkin hit the empty net for Pittsburgh’s second 5-2 victory over the Devils in nine days.
Brodeur is celebrating the 20th anniversary today of his first NHL game and victory, 4-2 over the Bruins at the Meadowlands. ... Anton Volchenkov sat out with a lower body injury, and Matt Taormina rejoined lineup after sitting out 10 games, paired with Larsson in defense. ... The Devils play host to the Blackhawks tomorrow.
Sidney Crosby, the Devils, Penguins, Martin Brodeur, NHL, the Penguins, Travis Zajac, Evgeni Malkin