Without Crosby or Malkin, Penguins fall to Devils
A puck goes flying behind Penguins goaltender Brent Johnson during the second period of Thursday's game against the Devils in Newark, N.J.
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NEWARK, N.J. -- Maybe Jacques Lemaire had a point.
Perhaps Lemaire, the New Jersey Devils' coach, was dead-on accurate when he suggested Thursday morning that playing without Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin didn't have to be a lethal blow to the Penguins' chances of earning two points that night.
Hard to say for sure, though, because the Devils' grabbing a two-goal lead wasn't factored into Lemaire's thinking. And giving any club he coaches an advantage like that is a pretty good way for a team to guarantee itself a loss, as the Penguins were reminded by a 2-0 defeat at the Prudential Center.
Devils goalie Martin Brodeur rejected 23 shots to earn his 114th career shutout, but, truth be told, a good 110 of those likely were tougher to get.
The Penguins didn't generate any significant offense until the third period and rarely sent enough pucks and/or bodies to the net -- aside from a couple of sequences that earned interference minors for Max Talbot -- to cause Brodeur any significant stress.
"They blocked a lot of shots," said Mark Letestu, who played between Chris Kunitz and Pascal Dupuis on the No. 1 line. "You get 18, 19 shots, that's clearly not enough to score on that guy."
The Penguins' offense, not surprisingly, suffered from the absence of Crosby, who remains the NHL's leading scorer despite missing seven consecutive games because of a concussion, and Malkin, who appears to have aggravated a left knee injury that has bothered him for much of the season.
This was the first time since Malkin joined the Penguins in 2006 that he and Crosby have missed the same game. Suffice to say, their teammates are not eager to have it happen again soon, although coach Dan Bylsma said he has not heard anything about Malkin's status for the game Saturday night against Carolina at Consol Energy Center.
Predictably, though, the Penguins did not dwell on the impact of being without their two most-accomplished offensive talents.
"Obviously, they're good hockey players and shoulder a lot of the offensive load for us," Letestu said. "But there was an opportunity here for guys to step into [expanded] roles.
"There are good hockey players still in this room. Enough to get a win tonight, for sure. We just didn't bring it."
Mind you, bringing it -- or doing anything else -- gets a whole lot tougher once the Devils get in front. Give them a lead, and getting through the neutral zone wouldn't be any tougher if they strung barbed wire there.
"It was obviously what we expect against this team," center Jordan Staal said. "The way they trap and slow the game down makes for a frustrating game when you're trying to come back.
"It's not easy when you're down, 2-0, with the way they play, and with who they have in net."
New Jersey got the only goal it needed on its first shot of the game.
Brian Rolston beat Penguins goalie Brent Johnson with a slap shot from above the left circle 82 seconds after the opening faceoff, and the Devils exploited a mistake by a former teammate in the middle of the period to go up by two.
Penguins defenseman Paul Martin, a New Jersey alum, tried to bank a pass off the boards behind the net to defenseman partner Zbynek Michalek, only to have Nick Palmieri of the Devils pick it off and step to the front of the net before backhanding the puck past Johnson at 9:51.
"[Michalek] called for it, so I made the play," Martin said. "Typically, they want us to talk to each other, but I shouldn't have thrown it like that. ... He didn't give [Michalek] a good chance to make a play on it."
And Palmieri's teammates didn't give the Penguins many chances to make plays after that. It wasn't until around the middle of the final period that they began to generate significant offense.
"In the third period, we started to win some battles and execute and play in the offensive zone," Bylsma said. "We had a couple of shifts where we extended the time there, and had a couple of chances. ... We didn't have that for the first 45, 50 minutes of the game."
By then, it was too late. And ultimately, Crosby and Malkin weren't the no-shows who hurt the Penguins' chances of winning the most.
"Obviously, we didn't give it our best," Staal said. "Our heads weren't into it, as well as our legs. It just wasn't there."