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Thursday, March 24, 2016

Game Recap: Listless Pens Lose 3-0 to Devils

The curse of the unknown goaltender continued as the Penguins faced Scott Wedgewood in just his second career NHL start. They couldn't solve Wedgewood, who earned the shutout with 39 saves, and they snapped their 6 game winning streak when they lost to the New Jersey Devils 3-0. Kyle Palmieri had two goals for the Devils, and Adam Henrique had the other as New Jersey managed to generate offense despite only shots on goal. The shutout also marked the end of Sidney Crosby's 12 game scoring streak. The Penguins missed out on a golden opportunity to keep pace with the Rangers and cushion their lead over the Islanders, and they remain 4 points behind the Rangers with a game in hand and 1 point ahead of the Isles having played an additional game.

The Devils set the tone of the game early when they scored just 26 seconds into the game. Kyle Palmieri took a pass off the boards from Travis Zajac to get in behind the defense then beat Marc-Andre Fleury on a weak wrist shot that the Pens goaltender absolutely should have saved. Pittsburgh nearly tied things moments later when Nick Bonino got the puck wide open in the slot, but he just couldn't wrap the backhand around Scott Wedgewood's outstretched leg. The would get their first power play of the night when Stephen Gionta was called for slashing Conor Sheary, but the Pens' struggling power play didn't present any offensive threat. The game would be fairly wide open as far as Devils games go, and the teams would trade chances back and forth through the first half of the period. New Jersey would nearly extend the lead to two midway through the 1st, but their tipped shot pinged harmlessly off the post to the right of Fleury.

It wouldn't take much longer though for the Devils to break through to make it 2-0. Beau Bennett was called for a questionable holding penalty in the offensive zone behind the Devils net, and Kyle Palmieri scored on a one timer off the ensuing faceoff on the power play for his second goal of the night. Pittsburgh would get its second opportunity on the power play in the opening period after Bobby Farnham was sent off for cross checking Trevor Daley, and they needed something to help shake their sluggish start, but New Jersey would have the best chance of the Pittsburgh man advantage when Travis Zajac and Adam Henrique would come down the ice on a 2-on-1 rush, but Kris Letang was able to break up the cross ice pass to prevent the Devils from a potential back-breaking shorthanded goal to push the lead to three.

The Penguins would head to the first intermission in a 2-0 hole and desperately needing better play coming out for the 2nd period. Less than a minute in, Pittsburgh had a 3-on-1 rush into the New Jersey zone, but the Sidney Crosby shot wasn't able to beat Wedgewood on the glove side. They would continue to drive the play towards the Devils' zone in the early minutes of the 2nd, but despite several chances they weren't able to break through and get the puck past Wedgewood. The Penguins would get another power play opportunity midway through the 2nd period when John Moore was called for high sticking against Matt Cullen, but the Pittsburgh power play continues to be completely inept without Evgeni Malkin on the ice, and to make matters worse Justin Schultz hooked Henrique shortly after the New Jersey penalty expired to put the Pens on the penalty kill. Pittsburgh would kill off the penalty, and neither team would be able to score before the intermission, though the Devils nearly made it 3-0 with seconds remaining when Devante Smith-Pelly wristed a shot off the butt end of Fleury's stick.

For whatever reason, the Penguins just seem to struggle whenever they're facing an unknown netminder, and they weren't able to generate much pressure offensively for large stretches of the game. Needing a strong start to the 3rd period, Letang took a hooking penalty just 3 minutes into the period that disrupted any momentum Pittsburgh was hoping to generate coming out of the locker room. They killed off the minor, but they never were able to seriously threaten, and on a 2-on-1 Henrique sniped a shot that beat Fleury glove high to make it an insurmountable 3-0 New Jersey lead.

Though the Penguins didnt't get the result they were looking for on the scoreboard, they did control possession against New Jersey with a score-adjusted 63.3 CF%. Unfortunately they weren't able to seriously test the rookie goaltender and make things difficult for him, and the Devils were able to trap almost from the opening faceoff given the early goal. The Pens will look to get back on track Saturday when they travel to Detroit to face the Red Wings, who are currently on the outside of the playoff picture looking in and will certainly give the Penguins a test as they fight for their playoff lives.

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