1 Trying to do too much
That was one of the things coach John MacLean spoke about before the game and it happened to Ilya Kovalchuk on the Pens’ first goal late in the first period.
The high-priced sniper was caught with his head down trying to do a spin move near the Devils’ blue line and was stripped by Eric Tangradi. Seconds later, the puck was past Martin Brodeur, who was beaten by a Alex Goligoski slap shot from the left circle.
2 Fatigue sets in
Injuries and cap space forced the Devils to suit up just 15 players and it caught up to them midway through the second.
Moments into a power play, the Devils nearly gave up consecutive shorthanded goals on odd-man rushes. Then, Jason Arnott was near the net but barely had enough energy to lift his stick up.
“[There] was a couple of mistakes that cost us there,” Patrik Elias said.
3 They had a shot
The Devils outshot the Pens 15-8 in the third and solved backup goalie Brent Johnson when Elias scored on a booming slap shot at 8:20.
Travis Zajac nearly tied it on a backhander with three minutes left, but his attempt went off the left side of an open net.
“We started to chip the puck in for support and work to get it back,” MacLean said. “That’s how you’re successful.”
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The Devils had 15 excuses why they've yet to record a win this season, but they declined to use any one of them last night.
Instead, a team that suited up just 15 players blamed costly mistakes in their own end in each of the first two periods in a 3-1 defeat to the Pittsburgh Penguins.
For the first time, the Devils dressed 15 skaters because being so close to the salary cap threshold did not allow replacements for defenseman Anton Volchenkov (broken nose) and forwards Brian Rolston (lower back) and Pierre-Luc Leblond (suspension, waivers).
Instead of 12 forwards and six defensemen, the Devils played with just nine forwards and opened a season with three straight losses for the first time since starting the Kevin Constantine era with a four-game losing streak in 2001-02.
“Yeah (it was strange),” Jamie Langenbrunner said after playing 22:35. “But I thought we got into a rhythm of keeping the shifts short and trying to not extend anything and make sure guys were fresh and I think for the most part of it we did a pretty good job of that.”
“Nobody’s going to feel sorry for us,” Travis Zajac added after playing 23 minutes. “We just got to come to the rink and make sure we work through this. It’s something right now where we’re not consistent on a nightly basis and these are important points.”
The Devils were dismal in their own end, leading to a 2-0 deficit through 20 minutes on goals by defenseman Alex Goligoski and Mark Letestu that even a strong third period was not enough to overcome. The final blow was delivered by ex-Devil Paul Martin, who scored an empty-netter with 11 seconds remaining.
“Tonight’s game it was a couple of mistakes that cost us,” Patrik Elias said. “We got to eliminate that and that’s going to happen. It’s game of mistakes but we have to eliminate it right now.
“It would be nice if we were still making mistakes and we could put in three, four or five goals. It’s going to come. We got to play the way we played in the third period, support better all over the ice and that’s the way we’ve got to get out of it.”
Better support could have occurred on the miscue by Ilya Kovalchuk that led to Pittsburgh’s first goal as well as the bad bounce that occurred on Pittsburgh’s second goal.
In his third game of a 15-year deal, Kovalchuk was caught trying to do too much with just less than two minutes remaining in the first. Near the Devils' blue line, he attempted a little spin move but had his head down and did not see Eric Tangradi approach and nudge the puck away.
There was not a Devil in the vicinity as the puck went to Goligoski, who skated into the left circle untouched and put a slap shot over Martin Brodeur.
Less than three minutes into the second, the Devils were caught unorganized again in their own end during a scramble. Defenseman Henrik Tallinder could not control a loose puck well enough to clear it and it went off his shin pad, Letestu’s skate and past Brodeur with one second left on a power play.
Then fatigue added to the misery. During a power play, Brodeur had to stop consecutive shorthanded odd-man rushes and on the other end, Jason Arnott appeared so wiped out that he barely could lift his stick up to take a pass.
By the third, the Devils finally got back to playing decently and scored 8:20 into the period on Elias’ slapper from the right circle.
“We have a really good team on paper but we have to make the simple plays and otherwise we won’t win games,” Tallinder said. “A turnover cost us in these three games that we’ve played. So it’s back to square one.”
Square one begins Tuesday as the Devils prepare for a visit to Buffalo and try to not lose any more points than they already have.
Volchenkov broken nose is not a head injury GM Lou Lamoriello said before the game and the blue-liner remains day-to-day. Volchenkov suffered the injury Saturday when a shot from Washington’s Nicklas Backstrom hit him in the face. The visor pushed back into his face, broke his nose and required stitches.
Brian Rolston sat out with a back injury, which shifted Dainius Zubrus to left wing.
Lamoriello said that left wing Pierre-Luc Leblond was placed on waivers and if he clears would be in the minors. Leblond served an automatic one-game suspension for instigating an altercation in the final five minutes Saturday.
Lamoriello said that he did not like Leblond’s actions but that the incident was not the reason for placing the left wing on waivers.
Two one-goal losses led to some Pittsburgh line changes as Sidney Crosby was placed on a line with ex-Islander Mike Comrie and two bad periods resulted in the same for the Devils.
During the third, Kovalchuk played with David Clarkson and Zubrus; while Zajac played with Langenbrunner.
“We tried to do some different things to see if we could some traffic,” MacLean said. “It worked for a little bit. We really didn’t get much out of it but in the third everybody worked, so we’ll see tomorrow.”
Arnott turned 36. Two years ago on his birthday, Arnott scored two power-play goals for Nashville in a 3-1 win over Dallas. His last birthday as a Devil was in 2001 when he scored twice and had two assists in a 6-4 loss to the Islanders.
Martin returned to New Jersey for the first time since signing a five-year deal with the Penguins this summer. Martin played 400 games with the Devils and predictably was booed every time he touched the puck.
Penguins’ defenseman Brooks Orpik sat out with a groin injury that could sideline for him for about a week.