Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

Back-to-Back Falling Flat Consecutive Losses Allow New Jersey to Extend Atlantic Lead Devils 3, Penguins 1

Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

Back-to-Back Falling Flat Consecutive Losses Allow New Jersey to Extend Atlantic Lead Devils 3, Penguins 1

Article excerpt

Pete DeBoer sounded like a worried man, and for good reason.

Several of them, actually.

It was late Saturday morning, and his New Jersey Devils were about to begin a home-and-home series against the Penguins.

DeBoer, aware that the Penguins had spanked New Jersey, 5-1, a week earlier, told reporters of the importance of neutralizing their speed, of avoiding penalties and of playing defense as a five-man unit from one end of the rink to the other.

And of the consequences for failing to do any of that.

"You can't let up in any zone, or give this team any room anywhere on the ice," he said. "Or they'll make you pay for it."

Although DeBoer's players couldn't hear those words, they absorbed every syllable of his message.

Enough to earn two 3-1 victories, including one Sunday night at Consol Energy Center that ran their winning streak to five games and tightened their hold on first place in the Atlantic Division.

The Penguins, conversely, have lost consecutive games for the second time this season and slipped to 8-5 after generating just two goals, both on power plays, in 120 minutes in their lost weekend.

Although stingy team defense has long been the cornerstone of the Devils' game, New Jersey has added a dimension to it with an emphasis on keeping the play 180 or so feet away from its goaltender.

When the Devils can force opponents to invest a lot of time and energy in preventing goals, as happened Sunday night, there isn't much left to try to generate offense of their own.

"They do a good job of wearing you down in your own zone," Penguins right winger James Neal said. "As good as any team does."

There's nothing flashy about the Devils' approach. They methodically move the puck through the neutral zone and into the opposing team's end and work to keep it there for as long as possible, and they are opportunistic when the pressure they exert forces a mistake.

"We want to control the puck down low, get chances from the point and battle it out in front of the net," Devils center Ryan Carter said. "I think that frustrated them, without the chance to get their feet going. It takes away their offense."

That's a pretty sound game plan. …

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