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Devils blank Sid- and Malkin-less Penguins 2-0

by Dan Rosen

NEWARK, N.J. -- It turns out life without Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin isn't all that much fun for the Pittsburgh Penguins.

We know, shocking.

Pittsburgh had to play a game without both of its All-Star centers for the first time in 437 games, regular season and playoffs combined. The Penguins would prefer never to do it again.

New Jersey jumped out to a lead just 82 seconds into Thursday night's game and cruised to a 2-0 victory over the Penguins, who even used All-Star goalie Marc-Andre Fleury as Brent Johnson's backup.

"It wasn't a pretty picture," Penguins center Jordan Staal said.

The problem is Pittsburgh might have to get used to playing without Crosby and Malkin, because it's unclear when they will return.

Crosby has missed seven straight games with a concussion, and coach Dan Bylsma had no update on his status when he was asked after the morning skate. Malkin's balky left knee forced him to join Crosby back in Pittsburgh, and Bylsma couldn't say for sure if he would be able to play Saturday against Carolina.

Pittsburgh is 3-3-1 since Crosby last played.

"You can't use that (as an excuse)," forward Pascal Dupuis told "It's the NHL, and injuries are part of the game. I think we're a good enough team in here to have a better performance than we had tonight. I don't think we were ready"

The Devils didn't care about Pittsburgh's injury woes, or who was or wasn't wearing a white jersey Thursday. They just wanted to keep a good thing going -- regardless of the opponent.

New Jersey, still dead last in the NHL, got all the offense it needed on early goals from Brian Rolston and rookie winger Nick Palmieri to continue its best surge of what has been a dismal season. They're 4-0-1 with 20 goals in their last five games.

Palmieri made it 2-0 just 9:51 into the game and from there the Devils went back to their vintage style under Jacques Lemaire. They clogged the middle, keeping the Penguins to the outside, away from prime scoring areas.

Martin Brodeur stopped 23 shots for his fourth shutout of the season and eighth in 73 career appearances against the Penguins. It was the NHL-record 114th shutout of his career.

Brodeur could sense early that the Penguins were a little lost without Crosby and Malkin.

"They didn't try to create much. They just dumped the puck and they tried to grind it out," Brodeur said. "That's what they did all night. They didn't change the way they were playing. Some guys will say, 'Well, it's a weaker team and if you do that enough they'll make mistakes.' That's what they did and we just played well."

Rolston gave the Devils the early lead by rifling a shot past Johnson's blocker just 1:22 into the game. The play was the quintessential sign of how much better the Devils are playing much of late.

Andy Greene started the play deep in the defensive zone with a crisp breakout pass up to Rolston in the neutral zone. Rolston gave the puck to Patrik Elias, who carried it into the zone as Rolston curled behind him. Elias dropped the puck back to Rolston, who from about three feet above the left circle hammered a shot that beat Johnson.

Rolston said the key to the entire sequence was the support the Devils gave one another, something they weren't doing just two weeks ago. The entire sequence took mere seconds.

"I get it with no speed in the middle, but I get it to Patty coming with speed and then I'm right on his back after that," Rolston said. "It's good support by him to know that I'm going to get it, he starts flying and I can get up with him. When you're close like that and you can make plays and come with speed, it makes a huge difference in our team offense."

Palmieri turned a turnover behind Johnson into the Devils' second goal of the night.

Ex-Devil Paul Martin tried to reverse the puck to Zbynek Michalek by banking it off the end boards, but he did it too softly and the puck never made it to Michalek. Palmieri swooped in to pick it off and, using his backhand, curled it around the right post and put the puck through Johnson's legs and into the net for an unassisted goal -- his third goal in nine games since making his NHL debut on Jan. 1 at Carolina.

"We didn't put ourselves in any situation to have success in this game with the players we had on the ice," Bylsma said.

It's hard to argue with that assessment. The Penguins never got anything going offensively, and they struggled with penalties. Max Talbot was twice called for goalie interference and Chris Kunitz was whistled for a pair of hooking calls.

The Devils didn't let Pittsburgh unveil its new-look power play units until 5:27 of the third period when Jason Arnott went off for tripping Matt Cooke. Staal, Mark Letestu and Kunitz created a good chance early in the advantage, but Brodeur sprawled to his left to close it off.

Thirty seconds later Staal deflected a shot with his backhand that appeared targeted for the goal, but Brodeur snared it with his catching glove and quickly transitioned the puck to the ice so he could send it out of the zone. The Devils killed off the rest of Arnott's penalty without much challenge.

"We retrieved pucks really well in our zone, but you could tell it's a lot different when these two guys (Crosby and Malkin) are not in the lineup," Brodeur said. "Their defensemen usually don't carry the puck, they join the play. Now they were carrying the puck and it makes it a lot different. They didn't carry many pucks inside. But usually when you keep it simple against a weaker team you're going to draw penalties and get your opportunities. We were solid."

And the Penguins were flat right on through their depleted lineup.

"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."

Follow Dan Rosen on Twitter at: @drosennhl

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