NEWARK, N.J. -- Sidney Crosby had been cultivating the moustache for a while.
It had been visible to the naked eye for days and, because Crosby, a famously superstitious sort, planned to keep it until the Penguins' winning streak ended, it seemed possible he might end up looking like Yosemite Sam.
Or, at the very least, Lanny McDonald.
The Penguins had, after all, been consistently finding a way to win games.
Sometimes, their power play made it happen. Sometimes, it was great goaltending. Sometimes, a superb individual effort.
And so it was again for much of what became a 3-1 loss Saturday afternoon against New Jersey at the Prudential Center.
Brandon Sutter staked the Penguins to a 1-0 lead when he deflected a Simon Despres shot past Devils goalie Martin Brodeur just 83 seconds into the game -- the 10th time in 12 games the Penguins opened the scoring -- and then goalie Marc-Andre Fleury and the Penguins' penalty-killers set about trying to protect it.
And nearly pulled it off, even though the Penguins demanded far too much of both by giving the Devils 10 power plays.
The Penguins killed all five of New Jersey's chances with the extra man through the first two periods, and Fleury rejected the first 18 shots the Devils threw at him, until rookie Stefan Matteau beat him from the inner edge of the right circle at 16:31 of the second
Still, the Penguins had done enough damage-control against the Devils' power play, which entered the day on a 4-for-11 roll, to have a very real shot at stretching their winning streak to six games.
"Our penalty-killing and [Fleury] did an unbelievable job," Crosby said. "But your odds of killing that many in a row, especially in one game, is pretty tough."
Actually, those odds proved to be a bit less than microscopic because Adam Henrique and Bobby Butler got man-advantage goals in the final period -- when the Devils had five more power plays -- to give New Jersey its margin of victory.
And, in the process, to lift the Devils over the Penguins (8-4) and into first place in the Atlantic Division.
The Penguins began the game as the second-least penalized team in the NHL, averaging just 10.6 penalty minutes per game, so they hardly make a habit of playing short-handed.
Still, this was the second time in the past three games they put a severe burden on their penalty-killers. They had been short-handed seven times in the 4-2 victory Tuesday on Long Island, although they did not give up a goal in those situations.
Expecting to snuff every opportunity the Devils got, however, likely wasn't realistic when the total began to approach double-figures.
"When you get to the seven, eight, nine, 10 area, or three or four in a period, it's harder to kill those," coach Dan Bylsma said.
Although a few of the Penguins were unhappy with the work of referees Chris Lee and Gord Dwyer, most were unwilling to absolve themselves and their teammates of culpability for some of the penalty problems.
A few stemmed from suspect decision-making, others from lapses in discipline. Exhibit A for the latter was a roughing penalty Evgeni Malkin was goaded into taking after David Clarkson of the Devils was being penalized at 2:26 of the third, when the score was still tied, 1-1.
"Any night there are a lot of penalties, you feel like you're the ones who got the lower end of it, but we just have to be smarter," Sutter said. "We just had too many penalties, undisciplined penalties."
Bylsma pointed out that being down a man or two so often prevented the Penguins from getting into any sort of rhythm.
"Our [penalty-killing] and Marc were real strong early on," he said. "We weren't able to turn this into a five-on-five game after that point. We weren't able get any kind of flow to the game or get to the offensive zone."
There's no question that having to kill so many penalties impedes a team's ability to keep forward lines intact and roll them out on a regular basis, but Crosby suggested the Penguins' work when they were at full-strength wasn't especially impressive, either.
"We could have played better," he said. "We definitely didn't play the type of game we wanted to.
"Whether the momentum of those kills and that kind of thing tired guys out ... I think the bottom line is we probably didn't deserve to win that one."
By more than just a razor's edge.mobilehome - penguins
First Published February 10, 2013 5:00 AM