The New Jersey Devils will play on the road Friday night against the Pittsburgh Penguins and both Metropolitan Division teams are doing a lot of soul-searching.
In fact, it might be difficult to gauge which team is more frustrated.
The Penguins are having a rough week since exiting of the NHL’s holiday shutdown, going 0-1-1 in losses on back-to-back nights at the New York Islanders and at home against the Detroit Red Wings.
They were something of a no-show Tuesday against the Islanders, then had a strong start Wednesday with four first-period goals but watched as the Red Wings scored five unanswered goals, including the winner in overtime.
Frustration boiled over after the loss to Detroit.
“The fans, I hope, they hate us right now because we can’t play 40 minutes — the second and third periods — like this,” Pittsburgh center Evgeni Malkin declared.
Whether or not fans are at the level of “hate,” there certainly is some self-loathing within the team.
“We’re beating ourselves in a lot of different ways,” said Pittsburgh coach Mike Sullivan, whose postgame address to the players was longer than usual Wednesday.
“We’re giving teams easy offense. We’d love to get that. We’re handing teams easy offense. It’s hard to win that way.”
Sullivan said the problem isn’t limited to the players.
“I just think the standard is higher, and none of us are living up to it, myself included,” he said.
The game against New Jersey will be the Penguins’ third in four days. It’s also Pittsburgh’s last one before Monday’s marquee Winter Classic outdoor game against the Bruins at Boston’s Fenway Park.
“We have to find answers, obviously,” Pittsburgh defenseman Brian Dumoulin said. “We have to press here. We have an important one coming Friday. Obviously, it’s going to be a big test, another divisional opponent. We can’t feel sorry for ourselves.”
The Devils might not feel sorry for themselves, but they aren’t happy with the way things have been going, either.
New Jersey gave up two third-period goals Wednesday in a 3-1 loss to the Bruins, while falling to 1-7-1 over the past nine games.
Injuries are mounting — forward Ondrej Palat and goaltender Jonathan Bernier are on long-term injured reserve, and defensemen John Marino and Ryan Graves went on injured reserve this week — but New Jersey is looking more closely at those who are playing.
Mistakes proved costly Wednesday, nullifying what Devils coach Lindy Ruff thought was otherwise a good effort.
“I thought the team deserved better,” Ruff said.
But that’s the way it’s been going since New Jersey got off to a sizzling start this season at 21-4-1.
“It’s frustrating,” Devils forward Erik Haula said. “It’s just, once again, we’ve got to … look at it, the areas where we’re making mistakes, and we’ve got to get better.”
After falling out of a tie in the third and losing Wednesday, New Jersey has a similar refrain to Pittsburgh about finishing games.
“It shouldn’t happen, but that’s hockey,” Devils defenseman Jonas Siegenthaler said. “But we have to play 60 minutes. That’s how long a hockey game is.”
–Field Level Media