The Pittsburgh Penguins won their last ten straight games. This afternoon at the Rock, they extended their winning streak to eleven games when they simply steamrolled through the New Jersey Devils, 5-2. Seriously, it was like a tank rolling through a field of flowers.
It was no secret that the Penguins were a great team playing great hockey. Just read through my preview for this game and you'll learn that the Penguins have been a top team in almost every major statistical category. Throw in the fact that they won ten straight games and it's clear the Penguins are an elite hockey team this season. A loss was definitely a realistic possibility. Even a decisive loss like today's score was entirely reasonable. Hey, the Pens are beyond hot and have been great otherwise; results like that happen.
What makes today's game harder to stomach was that the New Jersey Devils were outclassed. It's one thing to lose 5-2, but it's even worse when out-shot by a ratio of more than 3 to 1. (It's 3.14 to 1 to be precise). That's simply abysmal. The Devils offense was plodding, unable to connect passes and make proper decisions to get shooting attempts on net, much less shots on Marc-Andre Fleury. Sure, they got pucks around the boards but it was trivial since the puck usually ended up on a Penguins' player stick. The Devils defense was pitiful as Pittsburgh players kept getting wide open on the flank and in the slot. The neutral zone was simply a zone for the Pens to skate through as they picked apart the Devils' defense. The backchecking effort was spotty at best and the defensemen themselves were just overwhelmed. Special teams were dominated by the superior team at both ends: Pittsburgh. From top to bottom, the Devils skaters just sucked today.
The only player on the roster that tried to resist the Penguins was Martin Brodeur. Brodeur played out of his mind in this afternoon. Brodeur denied the Pens off odd man rushes, surprise shots from wide open Penguins in the slot, jam plays right in front of him, one-on-ones with players, and even a penalty shot from Chris Kunitz. Brodeur stood on his head - and still five pucks got past him. That just states how fantastic the Penguins were at creating offensive opportunities. They didn't relent or fade when Brodeur made a huge save, they just went right back to work and eventually got the goals they sought. Even when they were up 4-1 or 5-2, they were looking for more - and came really close to getting it. Brodeur's heroics took what should have been an outright rout to a three-goal loss.
In summary, the Devils were out-shot 44-14; the Devils were out-attempted 59-25; the Devils were out-done in Corsi at -28 and Fenwick at -26; they started off the first two periods getting heavily outshot 14-2 and 10-2, respectively; they took 48 PIM compared to Pittsburgh's 8; only seven Devils players registered a shot on net; and the Devils crowd that started out hot was taken out of the game because there was so little to cheer. The only real positives from this game was that the Devils scored two goals after going two straight games with none scored, (I hope) no one got injured, and Our Hated Rivals are now feeling some more pressure in the standings. The Devils were excremental and the Penguins picked them up and threw them in the trash. Simple as.
For a happy recap, you need to read something by a Penguins fan. Hooks Orpik's recap at PensBurgh does that nicely. For more disgruntled thoughts about a terrible Devils performance, please continue on after the jump.
The Stats: The NHL.com Game Summary | The NHL.com Event Summary | The NHL.com Play by Play Log | The NHL.com Shot Summary | The Time on Ice Shift Charts | The Time on Ice Head to Head Ice Time Charts | The Time on Ice Corsi Charts (look upon it and weep, Devils fans)
The Game Highlights: There sure were some Penguins highlights in this game. There are also two Devils goals and 13 Brodeur saves in this video from NHL.com. The thing is, there could have been a separate video alone for Brodeur's saves.
Why the Devils Defensive Effort was Abysmal, Explained in One Highlight Video: I could go on and on about how the defensemen were bad today (e.g. Adam Larsson looked like a SEL defenseman, Mark Fayne gave his critics a point, etc.). I think it'll be clearer to just show you this highlight that sums up how bad the defensive effort was from the team. This came in the third period about four minutes after Matt Cooke scored to make it 5-2 Pittsburgh.
Brodeur makes one excellent save on Tyler Kennedy. The problem is that this is a 5-on-5 situation where Kennedy eludes all of the Devils and just goes right into the slot. The Devils assumed that they would get the puck, assumed that a play would have been made to get the puck out of their end, assumed that there could be no one getting behind them. Yet, they lost to the Penguins along the boards and they completely lost sight of Kennedy. This highlight came while the game was out of doubt, but it encapsulates how bad the Devils were in their own end and how well Brodeur had to play today. There should be no reason for Tyler Kennedy to get that wide open in the most dangerous part of the ice for an opposing forward to be in at even strength. Yet, there the Devils were, hanging Brodeur out to dry again.
In retrospect, I'm amazed Brodeur didn't get his Patrick Roy on, let up that goal, and storm to the locker room yelling, "Why should I try when no one else on my team is?" He just made the stop and continued to deny the Penguins despite the futility of his teammates in front of him. Today, Brodeur was as steady as a statue, and the Penguins were a fleet of pigeons with digestive issues. Thanks, defense.
A Concession: I will say that Brodeur possibly could have stopped Pascal Dupuis shot in the second period. It was a shot from distance on an angle that just slung past his left pad. I say possibly because it looked like there was traffic in front of him, so he may not have seen it. Still, it wasn't the best of goals to allow.
He still can't be faulted on the other four unless you think a one-timer by James Neal off a faceoff win, a power play one-timer by a wide open Evgeni Malkin, a puck re-directed off Matt Cooke's skate as he rushed to the net, and a non-defended Matt Cooke getting to a loose puck in the slot were all stoppable goals. If you do, then I don't know what to tell you.
What Did I Say About Puck Movement: Sometimes, I'm right about what I think the goal of the team should be going into a game in my previews. I said the Devils needed to be smart and smooth with their puck movement. They definitely weren't today as evidenced by the 25 total attempts on net and the 14 shots on net. Marc-Andre Fleury could have read a book in the crease for stretches of this game. I always preach the importance of getting shots on net, especially because the Devils have become the worst team in SF/60 in 5-on-5 play this season. You can't win with so few shots on net. However, the root cause of that paltry amount was that the Devils just weren't able to get into spots to attempt a shot. Too many passes gone astray or went right to the Penguins meant the Devils struggled just to get into positions to shoot, much less get shots on net. Until that becomes more effective more often, the team's going continue to struggle to get shots.
Of course, the Penguins made the most of the Devils' turnovers and mistakes in passing. That's evident with the Devils' -28 in team Corsi and -26 in team Fenwick.
This Line Didn't Get Destroyed: Only two offensive lines didn't end up deep in the red of Corsi. There was the fourth line, who played limited minutes and their collective mark on the game was that each member got a game misconduct in the third period. There was also the third line. Jacob Josefson, David Clarkson, and Alexei Ponikarovsky weren't hammered in possession. They did a decent job against Jordan Staal (no shots for him) and eventually got shifts against the crazy good line of Kunitz, Malkin, and Neal. Their Corsi ranged from +1 (Josefson) to -2 (Clarkson). This isn't to say they had a good game since the threesome only created one shot at even strength. It's that they didn't get heavily out-shot like the other Devils.
Some Brief Words About the Other Forwards: As for those other Devils, I feel like a collective "eeeew" from Jake Morgendorffer would suffice. Ilya Kovalchuk had his first bad game in a while. Captain Zach Parise was invisible. Adam Henrique just was lost on the ice (ditto fellow rookie Adam Larsson). Patrik Elias led the team with 3 shots on net, but he suffered from turnovers and a Clarkson-esque equilibrium. Dainius Zubrus was a complete non-factor today. Again, even the third line that didn't get utterly dominated in possession only got a collective one shot on net at evens. And that was no thanks to Clarkson, whose main contributions were a roughing minor that led to Malkin's power play goal and 10 minutes in the third period. I repeat: "ewwww."
For the goalscorers, it seemed like the goals they scored were their only high points in the game. Andy Greene's shot just after Pittsburgh's first power play was excellent and just under the crossbar. Too bad he was pinned back and just drowning in possession for the rest of the game. Petr Sykora scored the team's second goal on his rebound and managed to do little before or after the goal. This is a lot of negativity, but a 14-shot performance doesn't allow for much positivity even if the Devils did score two goals. You can't win with this kind of performance.
Crosby, Crosby, Crosby: Sidney Crosby played his second game back from injury and simply sparkled out there. He got three assists and six shots on net in 15:19 of ice time. Fans were screaming for him to be hit. Please. As if a bodycheck would somehow sap Crosby of his talent or make the Penguins worse. Since the Devils' idea of defense was to be as loose as possible, they weren't even in position to get a body on him (especially on his breakaway in the second period) and when they did, the puck ends up on an open player's stick. While the Devils had no answer for Crosby today, I doubt the answer was to play physical on him.
Even if they were, there was the other matter of the rest of the Penguins roster. Kris Letang jumped on the play seemingly perfectly every time and so he got 6 shots on net. Kennedy got five on net including a glorious chance in front in the third period that Brodeur robbed him on. Neal got up for this game with five big shots on net, including a goal. Third pairing defenseman Deryk Engelland even joined the shot party with four on net in less than 14 minutes of ice time. Malkin didn't have to be Mal-king today, but he did his part with a power play goal, an assist, and three shots on net. The Penguins just kept coming in waves except for a 13 minute portion of the game (the last ten minutes of the first period and the first three of the second period). No way that a single hit on Crosby would have stopped the rest of the team or changed the course of the game, despite all of the banter about it in the stands. Besides, Eric Boulton lit up Letang with a hit behind the net in the third period and all that did was a whole lot of nothing but get a cheer. The Penguins have been far more than Crosby this season and they proved it with authority today regardless of Crosby's great game.
About The Crowd: Credit the Penguins for wrecking the Devils, who deserved to be wrecked by their performance aside by Brodeur. They preyed upon the Devils' many errors, they demonstrated their superiority, and completely deserved to blow the Devils out of their own building, though I think they're plenty pleased with 5-2 win anyway. It was a disappointment for the Devils, to say the least.
What makes this loss feel more than a disappointment was that the crowd was taken out of the game by the Devils' horrible performance. They were loud at the start of the game, and the response after Brodeur's stop on the penalty shot and Greene's goal was massive. Everyone was in an otherwise festive St. Patrick's Day mood; and they were more than ready to bring the noise. But it turned into bitter silence, booing, or bantering thanks to the Devils faltering outside of Brodeur. Even Brodeur couldn't do it all himself. By the end, the only cheers came from Penguins fans as their team marched through Newark and dominated the Devils. Devils fans have every reason to be unhappy, and I get that. The Devils were abysmal. What I will say is that I hope you don't let this game decide how the rest of your day/night/weekend goes. Just because the Devils sucked doesn't mean you need to suffer as well. As for the players, well, if they wanted a crowd to feed off, they wasted it - just like this game.
One Last Thought: It was Retro Day with the Devils playing in their jerseys from the 1980s and early 1990s. I wish the Devils didn't go all the way and played like those teams from the 1980s and early 1990s today.
That's my take on today's game; now I want to know yours. Today was definitely a terrible game by the Devils. Will we look back on this and think it was just one terrible game, or a sign of further disappointment to come? How do you think the Devils will respond in coming games? How impressed were you with Brodeur? Isn't it a bad sign that after a game, the best you can say is "At least they scored some goals?" Please leave your answers and other thoughts on today's game in the comments. Thanks to those who commented in the Gamethread and followed along the occasional tweets from @InLouWeTrust. Thank you for reading.