NEWARK (KDKA) – The Pittsburgh Penguins were looking to close out 2011 with a win, but early penalty trouble proved to be the difference as they fell 3-1 to the New Jersey Devils.
Ilya Kovalchuk, David Clarkson and Zach Parise scored for the Devils who improved to 7-2 in their last nine games.
The win also pulled the Devils within three points of the Penguins for third place in the Atlantic Division.
The Devils got on the board late in the first period after a questionable call by the officials.
A loose puck was bouncing around Marc-Andre Fleury’s crease and Brooks Orpik cleared it out of danger with his hand. The referee ruled that Orpik had closed his hand on the puck in the crease and awarded a penalty shot.
Kovalchuk was selected as the shooter and beat Fleury between the legs to put New Jersey up 1-0 at 14:43 of the first period.
With under a minute to go in the opening frame, the Devils went to work on a 5-on-3 power play.
Patrik Elias received a cross-crease pass and had the entire net to shoot at, but rang his shot off the far post. However, Clarkson was able to find the rebound and chip it to the back of the net to give the Devils a 2-0 lead.
Pittsburgh started to assert themselves in the second period and outshot the Devils 12-5, but could not beat Martin Brodeur until the third period.
While on the power play, Matt Niskanen ripped a slap shot just wide of the net. The rebound off the boards came right to Kunitz who slapped it behind Brodeur to pull the Penguins within one with about 10 minutes to play.
Later in the period, Matt Cooke had a great chance to score on a one-timer in the slot, but Brodeur was able to get a piece of it to preserve the lead.
The Penguins pulled Fleury with about 1:30 to play and Parise sealed the deal with an empty net goal.
Injuries have been an issue for the Penguins all year and the situation didn’t get any better on Saturday.
Both Pascal Dupuis and Arron Asham left the game with undisclosed injuries and did not return.
The good news is that the Penguins will have some time to heal as their next game is not until Friday when they host the New York Rangers.