No team frustrates Penguins more than N.J., no goalie more than Brodeur
Even at 39, New Jersey Devils goalie Martin Brodeur has gone 3-0 with a 1.33 goals-against average and .961 save percentage against the Penguins this year.
Ilya Kovalchuk, right, goaltender Martin Brodeur and the Devils have had the Penguins' number over the past decade.
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NEWARK, N.J. --The Penguins were the defending Stanley Cup champions when they played six games against New Jersey in the 2009-10 season and came away with a perfect record to show for it.
Didn't win a single one of them.
Didn't stretch any beyond regulation.
Didn't earn one of the 12 points available to them.
Perhaps that's an extreme example of how the Penguins have struggled against the Devils in recent years, but the hard truth is that New Jersey has won six of the past nine season series.
And having won three of four meetings this season heading into a meeting with the Penguins at 1:08 p.m. today at the Prudential Center, running that streak to seven out of 10 hardly is out of the question.
The Penguins certainly are aware of how often New Jersey has had the upper hand on them, even if they can't fully explain it.
"It's happened enough where I think you start to think it's not just coincidence," defenseman Brooks Orpik said Friday.
"Every year, there are always certain teams that, for some reason ... maybe we'll beat up on one team that beats up on New Jersey, but we can't beat New Jersey. It doesn't make sense on paper."
Still, there is an adage that styles make the matchup, and the Devils' disciplined, responsible approach to team defense has frustrated, even flustered, the Penguins with regularity.
"They don't give you much, so it's tough to feel like you're gaining momentum," center Jordan Staal said. "When you're getting shut down a lot, you can get frustrated.
"We have a lot of emotional guys on the team, where it can get the better of you. That's one thing we've been fighting with against this team, to try to stay even-keeled for as long as we can and keep doing the things we do best."
The Penguins have been doing a lot of things well lately, as evidenced by their 10-game winning streak.
That's a serious feat. The Penguins and Boston are the only teams to win 10 consecutive game this season, and it matches the Penguins' third-longest streak.
But getting more than an occasional puck past Devils goalie Martin Brodeur -- who is separated from the Hall of Fame only by a retirement announcement and the mandatory waiting period -- appears to be more challenging than going weeks without a defeat for the Penguins.
Brodeur will turn 40 May 4, but his age doesn't show when he faces the Penguins. He has played against them three times this season, going 3-0, with a 1.33 goals-against average and .961 save percentage.
"It always seems like Marty plays out of his mind when we play against him," Orpik said.
Brodeur's brilliance is compounded because he not only stops pucks, but moves them as effectively as any goaltender in the game.
His puckhandling ability hardly is a secret, but that hasn't deterred the Penguins from throwing the puck into areas where he can get to it and feed it to a teammate, choking off their attack before it really gets started.
"We dump the puck, too much, on the goalie," Orpik said. "And, as soon as you do it with him, it's coming right back out of the zone. That's killed us a lot. It's something we have to do a little better [today]."
There are a few other guys they might want to keep the puck away from, too.
Zach Parise and Patrik Elias, for example, are committed, skilled two-way players, and left winger Ilya Kovalchuk ranks among the most volatile goal-scorers in the game.
What's more, Kovalchuk actually has tried to embrace New Jersey's tradition of working hard at both ends of the ice.
"He always wanted to win, he always wanted to score, he always wanted to be the go-to guy," said winger Pascal Dupuis, who played with Kovalchuk in Atlanta. "He seems like a guy who still wants to win and does the little details away from the puck a little better now."
Containing guys like Kovalchuk, Parise and Elias won't be easy, but the Penguins' belief in their abilities is predictably high now. Still, it doesn't seem to have mutated into overconfidence.
"We want to keep moving forward," Staal said. "Move up in the standings, keep getting better.
"It's a very confident team right now, but we're not complacent."
History shows that when the Penguins are playing New Jersey, there rarely is any reason -- or excuse -- for them to be.
- • Game: Penguins vs. Devils.
- • When: 1 p.m.
- • Where: Prudential Center, Newark, N.J.
- • TV, Radio: Root Sports, WXDX-FM (105.9).
First Published March 17, 2012 12:00 am