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Insider Only X’ & O’s: Devils win the neutral zone convincingly in shutting Penguins down

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PENGUINS – DEVILS X & O’s

The New Jersey Devils depleted by injuries came into Pittsburgh Thursday night with one of the worst rosters in hockey right now, started their No. 3 goaltender, and shut the hottest team in hockey down, 3-0, halting the Penguins winning streak at six games.

For Pittsburgh this type of loss needed to happen.

The Penguins have been playing with fire during their six game winning streak with multiple poor starts and Thursday night it finally came back to haunt them.

Kyle Palmieri scored 26 seconds in off the rush and New Jersey took a 2-0 lead on the power play with Palmieri adding his 29th goal of the season at 13:08 of the first period.

The Penguins had similar starts of late and the difference in this one is New Jersey was able to set the pace and tone in the game. The Penguins are vulnerable to giving up grade-A chances which had been the case during the six game winning streak but it would only be for a four to five minute stretch and then they’d play lock down defense the rest of the way, examples being the Rangers and Flyer games.

The grade-A chances for New Jersey continued all game, notably odd-man rushes.

“We gave up some big chances,” Sidney Crosby said via the Tribune-Review. “I didn’t think it was necessarily as much as them getting momentum, it was more making some pretty big errors that resulted in some really good chances for them.”

The Penguins are extremely good along the wall in all three zones under Mike Sullivan. They have a vulnerability at times, though, with their aggressiveness in pinching along the wall. The more tape coaches study on the Penguins new look and system, they’ll see the middle of the ice is often wide open when breaking out of the defensive zone against the Penguins.

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Hasn’t haunted them as much but it’s an area to watch moving forward and burned them on Adam Henriques third period goal when Brian Dumoulin pinched and Eric Fehr as the F3 was not high enough, leading to a 2-on-1 rush and Henrique burying a shot glove side past Fleury.

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Palmieri’s opening goal of the game also saw the Penguins pairing of Olli Maatta – Kris Letang play recklessly. “I think what we would prefer is to have one defenseman join the rush, not two,” Sullivan said of the Devils scoring 26 seconds in. These issues have been there for the Penguins, just been overlooked by winning.

DEVILS WIN THE NEUTRAL ZONE

The No. 1 thing scouts are pointing to towards the Penguins turnaround is their dominance through the neutral zone in defending the opposition and attacking offensively leading to clean zone entries. They’ve caused teams like the Flyers, Capitals fits in recent games.

As teams are now seeing the Penguins a second and third time with their improved speed/aggressive system, how teams adjust to defending the Penguins through the neutral zone is critical to slowing the Penguins down.

Devils coach John Hynes earned an ‘A’ last night.

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New Jersey won the neutral zone convincingly which was a major difference in this game not having a similar feel to the Carolina game where the Penguins fell down 2-0 in the first period but were still attacking with speed and aggressiveness through the neutral zone.

In their neutral zone trap, the Devils F1 did a tremendous job in forcing the Penguins to one side and New Jersey’s F2 and F3 were effective at taking away passing lanes in the middle of the ice that limited the Penguins Want the Full Story? Get "Inside Access"

About The Author

William DePaoli

TIOPS Insider

William DePaoli is the President/Founder of Inside Pittsburgh Sports LLC and can be reached at wdepaoli@insidepittsburghsports.com

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