Game 76 Recap: Zajac, Devils still no match for the Penguins
Three stars of the game:
3rd star: Evgeni Malkin (Penguins – Goal, assist)
2nd star: Pascal Dupuis (Penguins – Goal, assist)
1st star: Sidney Crosby (Penguins – Goal, assist)
Not even a good effort was enough to prevent another 5-2 score in a Devils-Penguins game. The Devils did a lot of good things offensively on Sunday night against the Pens, but they couldn’t finish their chances, and defensive breakdowns haunted them in the end. To summarize: the Devils are in a pretty significant slump right now all-around. The good news: Travis Zajac is back, and he looked really good. Here’s what happened.
The Devils didn’t get off to the start they wanted. Just 1:04 into the game, Martin Brodeur made a rare mistake handling the puck, and Evgeni Malkin swiped the puck, and threw it right to Chris Kunitz, who slapped the puck into an open net. The Penguins used that break to gain momentum. They had six of the first seven shots, but Brodeur made up for the mistake by making several huge saves to prevent the Devils from being buried in an even bigger early hole. That gave them time to find their game, and tie the game. At 5:10 of the period, Penguins goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury mishandled the puck as well, and Sidney Crosby uncharacteristically turned the puck over, and Zach Parise swatted it in on his backhand. It was Parise’s 30th goal of the season.
After that, the Devils seemed to settle down, and managed to contain the Penguins’ skaters. They also got some scoring chances of their own. On their power play, Travis Zajac found Zach Parise, as he threw the puck through the crease, but Fleury stopped Parise and Zidlicky’s feed to Ryan Carter. The Devils’ four lines each showed signs of potential in the opening period. Both teams struggled with turnovers in their own zone, but the Devils did have some good looks offensively, especially considering they only had 14 shots in their last game against Pittsburgh. They had 11 in the first period of Sunday’s game, but a late period turnover cost the Devils. Adam Larsson coughed the puck up trying to clear the zone, and Ilya Kovalchuk missed it. Matt Cooke found Jordan Staal, and Staal beat Brodeur with a soft shot, and the Pens struck late and took a 2-1 lead into the first intermission.
The Devils were not fazed by Pittsburgh’s late goal. The Devils started the second period very well. They controlled play for much of the period, and got plenty of scoring chances. The fourth line of Carter-Josefson-Bernier had some quality chances, and Travis Zajac had a huge chance on a near-empty net on a rebound of a Kovalchuk shot, but he missed the net. The Devils managed 13 shots in the second period, and probably should have had a better fate, but Fleury stopped all of the shots. The Devils did him a few favors, as they simply missed some of their chances. The Penguins, on the other hand, did not miss their best scoring chance. Sidney Crosby set up a 2-on-1 with Craig Adams, and Brodeur stopped the first chance, but Pascal Dupuis punched home the rebound, and the Pens took a 3-1 lead.
Then in the third period, the Devils attempted to make their comeback. 3:37 into the period, Travis Zajac set up Ilya Kovalchuk for an easy tap-in goal in front of Fleury to cut the deficit to 3-2. Less than 90 seconds later, Sidney Crosby tipped the puck by the Devils’ defense and snapped a puck five-hole on Brodeur to make it 4-2 Penguins. They got into some penalty trouble after that, and never really threatened after that point. Evgeni Malkin iced the game with an empty net goal, and the Pens beat the Devils, 5-2.
This game essentially came down to the Devils missing tremendous scoring chances and the Penguins not missing their chances. Pittsburgh created their own breaks in this game, and the Devils’ defense couldn’t contain them during those chances. Truth be told: four goals and an empty netter against the Penguins actually isn’t bad right now, but it was plenty for Fleury and the Penguins to win.
Ilya Kovalchuk had a goal and eight shots on goal, but he missed a golden chance from Zajac forcing a turnover in the third period, as he sent the puck wide of net. Again, that was the microcosm of the game. The Devils outshot the Penguins in the second and third periods, and overall, 34-28, and outplayed the Penguins for much of the game, but it simply wasn’t enough. So the Devils made improvements from the last meeting against the Penguins, but they’re just not playing well enough to win right now.