Although Penguins fans might not want to admit this. watching the Pittsburgh Penguins head into a game without Sidney Crosby or Evgeni Malkin is kind of scary.
Last night in New Jersey was the first such game since 2006, with Crosby still suffering from a mild concussion and Malkin dealing with an aggravated knee and sinus infection.
However, the Pens intended to focus on the players they did have rather than those they didn’t.
“The players we had tonight – we did not execute very well,” Head Coach Dan Bylsma told the press. “We made some mental mistakes early on that allowed some very good opportunities and we didn’t put ourselves in any kind of situation to have success in the game with the way the players on the ice were playing the game.”
The issue that presents itself, then, is whether or not the absence of Crosby and Malkin can be blamed for the ugly game that ended in a 2-0 loss the Devils.
New Jersey winger Brian Rolston scored 1:22 into the first period, on the Devils’ first shot. Nick Palmieri followed at 9:51, putting the Pens in a two-goal deficit that they couldn’t dig themselves out of.
Another notable absence was that of goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury, who sat out tonight with backup Brent Johnson in net. While it may be tempting to blame the loss on Johnson, he actually played an excellent game in the face of a poor defensive effort and the inability to make anything happen at the other end of the ice.
“The way we started that one and even the way we finished wasn’t good enough,” said forward Jordan Staal. Although he’s played only nine games this season, he is next in line down the middle when the team needs leadership. While he has been a true force, with six points so far, it takes more than one player to keep a team afloat.
“It’s not easy, obviously, losing (Crosby and Malkin), that’s two huge holes,” Staal stated. “At the same time, we have enough players here to step up and play some big minutes and key roles on this team, and it just didn’t happen tonight.”
Facing the Devils’ star goaltender Martin Brodeur is no excuse either.
“I think he’s a good goalie, but I don’t know, we ended up with eighteen, seventeen, shots, that’s a pretty easy night for him as far as not many pucks on net,” said Pens forward Mark Letestu. “If you think back, there weren’t a lot of great opportunities that we manufactured. I don’t think it was a matter of him being pretty good, just us not giving him enough work to get one past him.”
The Pens actually ended up with a total of 23 shots to the Devils’ 20, but it was a case of too little, too late, as they only began to generate chances in the last few minutes of the game.
“In the third period, we started to win some battles and execute and play in the offensive zone,” said Bylsma. “We had a couple of shifts where we extended the time there and had a couple chances, but it wasn’t until after maybe the twelve-minute mark of the third period when we were desperate and needed to get a goal in that situation – we didn’t have that for the first forty-five, fifty minutes of the game.”
Around the locker room then, it would seem that there is a consensus. While the absence of their two star players is definitely felt, the Penguins team is good enough to win without them. Last night’s game was, unfortunately, a collective failure.
Defenseman Paul Martin said it best.
“We’ve been up and down since Sid’s been out, and now with (Crosby and Malkin) out for however long we’ve got to find a way to win games,” he said. “It’s definitely going to be tough, but we have the guys here to do it.”