Thoughts, musings and observations from the Penguins' 2-1 loss to the New Jersey Devils at Prudential Center.
- After practice on Thursday, I asked Penguins head coach Mike Sullivan what his message to the team was as they move forward without captain Sidney Crosby for at least the next six weeks.
"We've got to, I think, rely on the group," he said. "We've got to defend in numbers, we've got to work together. It takes a collective effort out there on both sides of the puck."
That's exactly the kind of effort the Penguins put forth tonight. First of all, it was much more consistent across all 60 minutes compared to the last few games. And while the Penguins again fell behind by multiple goals, both tallies were of the fluky variety. The first one came off a funny bounce and the second one was an own-goal. Overall, I thought the Penguins defended hard and limited New Jersey's chances.
As for the lack of goals, it wasn't for lack of trying. The Penguins pressed hard, outshot the Devils 39-21 and got plenty of chances of their own. Tonight's game came down to the bounces - the Devils got them and the Penguins did not. Look no further than Jake Guentzel's chance in the third period, where he snuck around the defense, went in alone on Devils goalie Mackenzie Blackwood and beat him with a shot that went off the inside of the crossbar.
"I thought we had a solid game start to finish," Sullivan said. "Both goals were fluky goals. We generated a fair amount of quality scoring chances. We defended hard. The penalty kill was strong again. Our power play had some pretty good looks. You can't always control when the puck goes in the net. But I thought our guys played hard. I thought we played smart. We just didn't find the back of the net enough."
- While it's frustrating that the Penguins are playing well and not getting the results, all they can do is focus on controlling the process, particularly when it comes to generating offense and converting power-play opportunities.
As Sullivan pointed out, this team has shown that they're more than capable of scoring in bunches. And if they keep playing this way, they believe that the results will follow.
"It's tough - another night where we played really well, and we're just not getting the bounces right now," Guentzel said. "But I think most nights if we play like that we'll come out on top. Good thing we got another one (Saturday against Toronto)."
- While the power play has been getting a lot of attention for its lack of scoring, the penalty kill has been quietly going about its business and getting the job done. I thought they were terrific in the game.
Not only did they kill off New Jersey's two-plus opportunities (their third man-advantage was shortened after Taylor Hall took a penalty), they actually had some decent puck possession and created a few shorthanded chances of their own. And while the Devils weren't without their chances, Penguins goalie Matt Murray was there as the last line of defense.
They have now killed off 17 straight penalties and 24 of their last 25 overall. The Penguins have gone eight straight games without allowing a power-play goal, and have only allowed two goals on the penalty kill in the last 13 games.
"They've been doing a heck of a job all season," Murray said. "Just skating, pressuring pucks, blocking shots, doing everything you need to do. Those guys are huge for us."
- For the last handful of games, Sullivan has opted to start Teddy Blueger's line. I thought he and Brandon Tanev were two of the Penguins' best players tonight. They were certainly the Penguins' best penalty killers along with Murray, with Blueger's smarts and Tanev's speed a killer combination.
"We just like their energy," Sullivan said. "They're a real good line. They're physical, they get in on the forecheck, they play hard, they're good defensively. They're a great energy line for us. They usually get us momentum. That's what we like about them."
- Congratulations to Penguins winger Alex Galchenyuk, who set up the Penguins' lone goal - scored by Jack Johnson - to record his 300th career point in his 500th career game. He is the first member of the 2012 draft class to appear in that many games, and joins Nashville's Filip Forsberg as the only players chosen in that draft to record that many points.
- Penguins forward Nick Bjugstad left the game late in the second period with a lower-body injury and did not return. "He's being evaluated right now," Sullivan said. "We'll see how he is in the morning."