The Pittsburgh Penguins must figure out how to build leads without top scorer Sidney Crosby. The New Jersey Devils must learn to protect their leads, especially at home.
With Crosby sidelined for a minimum of six weeks due core muscle surgery, the Penguins take the ice on Friday night against the host Devils in Newark.
Crosby will miss his second game with an injury sustained in the third period of Saturday’s home win over the Chicago Blackhawks. He fell to the ice while getting tangled up with Chicago defenseman Erik Gustafsson, then got hit in the right skate with a puck.
Before the Penguins left for their two-game trip through the New York area, Crosby was ruled out for both games. On Thursday, they discovered the injury was more significant than originally believed.
“I’m stating the obvious when I say he’s a guy who is next-to-impossible to replace with everything that he does for our team, both in the locker room and on the ice,” Penguins coach Mike Sullivan said earlier this week. “He is a generational talent. But having said that, we still believe we have what it takes to win. That’s how we have to look at it.”
Crosby leads the Penguins with 17 points (five goals and 12 assists).
Without him, the Penguins started slowly and settled for a point in Tuesday’s 3-2 overtime loss to the New York Rangers. Pittsburgh rallied from a 2-0 deficit in the second period on goals by Justin Schultz and Jared McCann before losing in overtime.
The Penguins have allowed the game’s first goal in 12 of 17 games so far and have trailed by at least two goals in their last four games.
“We weren’t ready to play, they were ready to play and they outplayed us in the first period,” Sullivan said. “I give our guys a lot of credit for fighting back, but it’s hard to play if you’re in a two-goal deficit. It’s hard to climb out of it. For me, the lesson learned is we’ve got to play a full 60 (minutes).”
Playing a full 60 is a familiar refrain for New Jersey, but for another reason. The Devils are 3-2-2 when holding a lead entering the third period, and have been outscored 24-9 in the third so far.
The Devils did not allow a goal in the third period in their three wins on a recent five-game road trip but faltered badly in a 4-2 home loss to the Ottawa Senators on Wednesday. After Wayne Simmonds and Will Butcher scored in the first for a 2-1 lead, the Devils allowed three goals in the final 6 1/2 minutes.
New Jersey is 5-4-2 since opening the season with six straight losses. The Devils blew three games in which they led at some point in the third period during their losing streak and have also squandered third-period leads to Tampa Bay and Philadelphia on home ice.
“This far into the season, we can’t be having the same breakdowns and same things happening,” Devils defenseman Andy Greene said. “How many games is that? Five off the top of my head right there. That’s not good enough. We have to be way smarter, way tougher and way harder to play against.”
The Devils are 6-1-1 in the last eight meetings with the Penguins.
–Field Level Media