Arnott (r.) set up Elias' first of the year and now has points in all three games (2g-1a).
They weren’t making any excuses after Monday’s matinee loss because a squad this talented believes it can win on any night. Still, there’s no denying the Devils’ depleted roster put them at a disadvantage against the visiting Pittsburgh Penguins.
With New Jersey missing two players due to injury and a third to a suspension, goals by Alex Goligoski and Mark Letestu were enough to lift Pittsburgh to a 3-1 win at Prudential Center.
Patrik Elias’ first of the season cut the deficit to 2-1 with 11:40 to go in the third. Ex-Devil Paul Martin, who also had an assist, scored an empty-netter with 10.9 seconds left to seal it.
Brent Johnson recorded 30 saves, including 14 in the third period, when the Devils outshot Pittsburgh, 15-8, and took First Star honors. Martin Brodeur had to be sharp to keep his team close, and stopped 28 of 30 Penguins shots.
“We don’t use excuses,” head coach John MacLean said. “We had enough. It’s a 60-minute (game). I thought we competed in the third period, which was probably our best period.”
The Devils had been carrying 18 skaters, but wound up further shorthanded by injuries to Anton Volchenkov (broken nose) and Brian Rolston (lower body) at Washington on Saturday. They were also without Pierre-Luc Letourneau-Leblond, who was suspended one game for instigating in the final five minutes of Saturday’s contest.
Though they trailed, 2-0, after two periods, the Devils’ lineup of nine forwards and six defensemen dominated the final frame, and had several chances for the equalizer. Zach Parise set up Jason Arnott in the slot with just over eight minutes to go. Elias was dragged down by Ben Lovejoy as he cut to the net with 7:37 to go, but couldn’t draw a call from referees. Travis Zajac snuck around two Penguins and drew Johnson out of the net, then nearly tucked a backhander inside the right post with 3:12 left.
“We were playing the game that we wanted to play,” MacLean said of the third period. “And that was, we had to put the puck in deep. You can’t turn the puck over in the neutral zone. We started to chip the puck in and support and worked to get it back. That’s how you’re successful.”
They continued to apply pressure, but Zajac's miss was oh-so-close.
"I just couldn't get the puck in front of the net," Zajac said. "If I held on to it maybe a second longer, I could've stuffed it. Close, but not in."
The Devils (0-2-1) went 6-0-0 against Pittsburgh last season, outscoring them 22-5. New Jersey had been 4-0-0 in its previous four home meetings with the Penguins dating back to Dec. 26, 2008. They will be seeking their first win when they visit Buffalo on Wednesday.
Their play in the third period is reason for optimism.
"For the most part we did a lot of good things tonight," said captain Jamie Langenbrunner. "We played a little bit tentative early on, but I think we finished well at the end, played hard. We just have to find a way to play 60 minutes one of these nights. We always seem to have a stretch in one of the periods where we're off."
For the last time the Devils dressed fewer than 20 players, you’d have to go back to April 5, 2007, when they won in Philadelphia with 19. They had just 17 players suited up Monday, something that had not happened since they moved to New Jersey in 1982-83.
Obviously, we're fighting it a little bit right now trying to get that first win. It's getting frustrating, but I think the third period is an indication of how we can play. Now we just have to find a way to do that for 60 minutes- Jamie Langenbrunner
"It wasn't in the back of our minds during the game," Zajac said. "We did a good job of making sure everyone was into the game."
For Elias, the shortened bench was a non-issue.
"Nobody said a word about it, that we were going with three lines," he said. "We knew we were going to get our ice time. I thought that we did OK to rotate the lines. Nobody worried about who was on the ice against who. Tonight's game, just a couple of mistakes that cost us there. Turning the puck over, we have to eliminate that. It's going to happen. It's a game of mistakes, but we just have to eliminate it right now. It'd be nice if we still make a mistake and still put in three, four, five goals. It's going to come. We have to play the way we played in the third period, support better all over the ice and that's the way we're going to get out of it."
Goligoski opened the scoring with 1:04 to go in the first. Eric Tangradi forced a turnover on Ilya Kovalchuk along the boards, and Goligoski skated the puck to the left circle for a blast that went off Brodeur’s catching glove.
Letestu’s power-play goal made it 2-0 just 2:32 into the second. Kris Letang’s shot from the left point hit Letestu in front, then went off Henrik Tallinder's shinguards and into the net. The Devils almost answered seconds later, but Johnson robbed Arnott from the right circle and recovered to stop Matt Taormina's follow-up.
Devils’ penalty killers smothered the Penguins, including 1:23 of a Pittsburgh 5-on-3 in the second. The New Jersey power play, though, dodged a couple of shorthanded bullets. With ex-Devil Mike Rupp in the box at 12:13 of the second, Brodeur came out of his net to thwart Maxime Talbot's chance on a 3-on-1. Moments later, Craig Adams missed the net on a Pittsburgh 2-on-1. The flurry of action continued at the other end with Arnott missing an open net at 13:38.
Pittsburgh finished 1-for-6 with the man advantage in 10:37 of total time on the power play.
"It was pretty good," said Zajac, who saw 3:18 of PK time. "We did a good job on the 5-on-3, killing that. Stopping guys like Crosby and Malkin on the PP is pretty important and I think we did a pretty good job of that."
Elias halved the Pittsburgh lead in the third. Arnott won the draw at the left circle, and Elias blistered a one-timer inside the right post at 8:20.
Players agreed that they have to stay positive despite going winless in their first three outings.
"It's not about being discouraged," Elias said. "Nobody wanted to have one point out of the six possible here the first three games, and we still have a tough schedule here with three (games) in four (nights) again. We've talked about mistakes, we've looked at them, but we can't be making them again."
• Langenbrunner said it was strange playing with only three lines.
"Yeah a little bit," he said. "It's obviously a lot of room on the bench you're not used to. I thought for the most part we got into a pretty good rhythm of keeping the shifts short and trying to not extend anything, make sure you're always fresh. For the most part, I think we did a pretty good job of that."
Return of ZZPops The ZIP Line of Parise-Zajac-Kovalchuk was split up in the third, when MacLean put Langenbrunner on the right side to briefly reunite the ZZPops line.
"It was all right," said the coach. "There were a number of combinations, we’re trying to do some different things just to see if you get a little shot. It worked for a little bit, didn’t really get much out of it, but you know what, in the third everybody worked, but still not enough. We’ll see again tomorrow what we’re going to go with."
Langenbrunner seemed to enjoy being back with his former linemates.
"It was good," he said. "I think we also trying to shake something up to get something going. We were kind of sputtering there a little bit in the second, we weren't creating a whole lot. It looked like Clarkie (David Clarkson) and Zubie (Dainius Zubrus) had some pretty good jump there with Kovy. Sometimes you need to do that just to get something going. Obviously, we're fighting it a little bit right now trying to get that first win. It's getting frustrating, but I think the third period is an indication of how we can play. Now we just have to find a way to do that for 60 minutes."
Back to Buffalo Tallinder will be facing his former team Wednesday with his current team needing a win. The big rearguard signed with the Devils as a free agent this summer.
"You want to win, build confidence," he said. "I think everybody realizes what we have to do. We're veterans, so you just have to erase everything that you've done right now and back to square one, playing it simple."
1 - 0 PIT