After going 0-6 against New Jersey last season, the trend begins to turn
December 7, 2010 10:00 AM
Penguins Craig Adams and New Jersey''s Brian Rolston fight along the boards in the second period Monday night.
Penguins Sidney Crosby celebrates a goal by Chris Kunitz against New Jersey's Johan Hedberg Monday night in the first period. Crosby continued his scoring streak with an assist on the goal.
By Dave Molinari Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
On some levels, this game was a lot like the Penguins' victory Saturday night in Columbus.
For starters, the crowd was overwhelmingly pro-Penguins.
And, uh, well, that's about it.
Except, of course, for how the Penguins got a couple of points for beating the New Jersey Devils, 2-1, Monday night at Consol Energy Center, just as they had for spanking the Blue Jackets 48 hours earlier.
This time, though, the outcome wasn't a foregone conclusion before the first intermission arrived. It usually isn't when the Penguins play New Jersey, especially on those rare occasions when they actually defeat the Devils.
New Jersey, remember, went 6-0 against them in 2009-10, and that figure probably is more relevant to the Penguins than the 8-17-2 record the Devils own today.
"It's still kind of a work-in-progress, I think, with how we need to play against these guys," Penguins forward Mike Rupp said. "But we've won two against them this year, and hopefully the next one will be better."
The Devils' situation has changed -- they're anchored near the bottom of the Eastern Conference and there is rampant speculation that coach John MacLean's remaining time behind the bench can be measured in minutes -- but New Jersey still gives the Penguins fits with the way it disrupts their offensive flow.
"The games haven't changed this year," Penguins coach Dan Bylsma said. "They're still tight, there still isn't room in the middle of the ice."
Still, none of that prevented the Penguins from recording their 10th consecutive victory, tying the second-longest such streak in franchise history.
Center Sidney Crosby, who played in his 400th NHL game, had a goal and an assist, giving him at least one point in 16 consecutive games, a run unmatched in the league this season. Crosby has two or more points in 15 of the Penguins' first 29 games.
Penguins forward Evgeni Malkin sat out his second consecutive game because of a knee injury Bylsma described as "nagging." His place in the lineup again was taken by right winger Eric Godard.
The Penguins won despite coming up on the wrong end of the special-teams battle. New Jersey's power play was 1 for 4, while the Penguins failed on six chances with the extra man.
"That's a huge part of the game, the special-teams battle," Penguins left winger Chris Kunitz said. "We want to be plus or even every time we go on the ice."
Special teams tend to be cyclical, however, and statistics suggest those of the Penguins have slipped a bit in the past few games.
Their power play has failed to generate a goal in three of the past four games, and the other team has manufactured at least one man-advantage goal in three consecutive games after the Penguins had not allowed one in the previous nine.
The Penguins did, however, prevent New Jersey from scoring on two chances with the extra man in the final period, when they were protecting a one-goal lead.
"We got some big kills later on in the game," Crosby said.
Not early, though, as New Jersey grabbed a 1-0 lead at 14:20 of the opening period, when Brian Rolston, positioned along the goal line to the right of the net, threw a Jason Arnott rebound past goalie Marc-Andre Fleury while Pascal Dupuis was serving a hooking minor.
That was an omnious start -- "Last year, getting down to the Devils was something we didn't deal with very well," Bylsma said -- but the Penguins countered just 81 seconds later. Crosby fed a cross-ice pass to Kunitz, who drove a slap shot past Devils goalie Johan Hedberg from above the right hash.
"I just tried to put it into space so he could step into it," Crosby said. "He ripped it. That was a great shot, and it was a big goal to get one back."
Crosby got what proved to be the winner at 12:49 of the second by tossing a shot by Hedberg from below the right circle for his league-leading 24th goal.
"I was just in the right spot," Crosby said.
The Penguins are in a pretty good one, too. A place where, even when they don't turn in anything close to their best performance, they still manage to leave the rink with a couple of points.
"We didn't feel very good about our game," Kunitz said. "But we got it done."