NEWARK, N.J. -- The Penguins' 3-1 loss against New Jersey Saturday afternoon at the Prudential Center reminded them of just how far they have to go.
At the same time, their 8-4 record through the first quarter of the season -- despite playing two-thirds of their games on the road -- suggests they've been moving in the right direction since this lockout-shortened season began.
"For the most part, we've played well," center Brandon Sutter said. "After the first three or four games, we really started to find our game, especially defensively, so our goals-against has been much better."
The Penguins split their first six games, then ran off five victories in a row before losing to the Devils.
"Where we're at is a good stepping stone from the way we started the season," defenseman Paul Martin said.
Some of the Penguins' first-quarter numbers:
• Home record: 2-2.
• Road record: 6-2.
• Goals for per game: 3.25.
• Goals against per game: 2.42.
• Power-play conversion rate: 27.7 percent.
• Penalty-killing success rate: 82.7 percent.
• Penalties: 12.2 minutes per game.
• Hits: 23.4 per game.
• Blocked shots: 14.8 per game.
• Faceoff percentage: 52.2 percent.
The most important number, though, is that the Penguins have 16 points and would be on pace for 109 in an 82-game season.
"I don't think you can really be satisfied, but we're on a good path," winger Pascal Dupuis said. "We've played better lately, but we still have a lot of room for improvement, obviously."
Home-and-home series OK
The Penguins and Devils will complete a home-and-home series tonight at Consol Energy Center and will, in the process, meet for the third time in the past nine days.
New Jersey coach Pete DeBoer endorsed the idea of facing an opponent so frequently -- "I think it's good in that it's fresh in your mind -- what worked and what didn't work," he said.
His Penguins counterpart, Dan Bylsma doesn't seem to mind the concept, either.
"You don't often have these series where you see a team back-to-back," he said. "It's more like a college weekend. I think it makes for interesting hockey. You're going to feel like you play them six straight periods."
Center Sidney Crosby, who had a six-game assists streak snapped Saturday, seems glad to have a quick chance for redemption against the Devils.
"The great thing is, we get a chance to respond against the same team," he said. "We have to turn the page pretty quickly and make sure we have a much better effort."
Schedule dictates goalie plan
Even though Tomas Vokoun appears likely to start in goal for the Penguins tonight, Marc-Andre Fleury's start Saturday was his third in a row.
That's a good affirmation that, confident as the Penguins are about Vokoun, Fleury remains their go-to goalie, just as management consistently has said he is since acquiring his new backup.
"This schedule has dictated, with back-to-back games and three-in-four [days] that it almost was 50-50 through a number of games," Bylsma said. "The schedule now, with what we've had the last week, has been a chance for Marc to put some games together."
The Penguins are 3-1 in day games this season. ... They scratched forwards Dustin Jeffrey and Eric Tangradi as well as injured defensemen Kris Letang (undisclosed) and Matt Niskanen (ankle). Niskanen accompanied the Penguins to Newark, although he apparently has not started skating.
A long time coming
With his start Saturday, New Jersey goalie Martin Brodeur became the 93rd player in NHL history to appear in 1,200 games. However, he ranks ninth among games-played leaders with one team.
Player, team No.
Nicklas Lidstrom, Detroit 1564
Alex Delvecchio, Detroit 1549
Steve Yzerman, Detroit 1514
Stan Mikita, Chicago 1394
Joe Sakic, Colorado 1378
Ken Daneyko, New Jersey 1283
Henri Richard, Montrea 1259
Shane Doan, Phoenix 1209
Martin Brodeur, New Jersey 1200
Dave Molinari: Dmolinari@Post-Gazette.com or Twitter @MolinariPG. First Published February 10, 2013 5:00 AM