Devils 4 – Penguins 3 (OT)

With a 4-3 loss to the New Jersey Devils Friday night, mental lapses continue to be the theme surrounding the Penguins lately as the playoffs are just 18 days away.

The Penguins played a great first and third period but a disastrous stretch early in the second period saw the Devils score three times in a 3:39 span to go from trailing 1-0 to leading 3-1 after forty minutes.

“We have mental lapses for short periods of time and it’s costing us and you can’t have that this time of year,” head coach Mike Sullivan said afterwards.

The concerning part for the coaching staff is that some of these mental lapses are continuing to come from some of their best players defensively.

Some wonder if the Penguins can win a Stanley Cup with Chad Ruhwedel or Matt Hunwick as their No. 6 d-man.

Last post-season shows they can and whether the Penguins get back to the Stanley Cup Final or not isn’t going to come down to a No. 6 defenseman. And that’s the belief the Penguins came to when they had no problem including Ian Cole as a thrown-in to Ottawa for Derick Brassard to make the money work.

A bigger burning question for the Penguins heading down the stretch run and into the playoffs is the mental lapses surrounding Kris Letang’s game.

As good as Letang is when he’s on his game, he plays so much that the mental lapses around his game right now are killing the Penguins some nights.

It happened again in Friday’s loss to the Devils and the 4-on-4 goal allowed was another prime example.

In a 4-on-4 play, the Penguins in their own end play a man-to-man coverage and the job of any defenseman is to protect the front of the net.

Letang has coverage on Taylor Hall down the right side and as Hall makes a cross-ice pass, Letang goes for a stroll behind the net, leaving Nico Hischier all alone in front for a tap-in goal.

A defenseman the caliber of Letang, that just can’t happen in deciding to take a skate around the net.

Early in the season it was about getting Letang right physically, now as the playoffs are around the horizon, everything about Letang’s game is eliminating the mental mistakes.

They are plaguing Letang on a nightly basis and the frustration with the coaching staff saw them alter the first and second pairing after the Hischier goal [hide] where Justin Schultz was moved up with Brian Dumoulin.

In 4:10 of ice time at 5-on-5, the Penguins controlled possession at 83% (10/2) and 8-1 edge in scoring chances with the Dumoulin-Schultz pairing on the ice.

It was a small sample as Schultz exited in the third with a minor injury but will be interesting if we see this pairing some more.

“I loved our third [period]” — Mike Sullivan

Pittsburgh rallied in the third period with goals from Brian Dumoulin and Phil Kessel to force overtime and the Penguins who peppered the Devils with 43 shots in the game, out-shot New Jersey 16-4 in the third period.

“We had success in the first and third period and that’s how we have to play,” Sidney Crosby said.

1st Period
PIT 2:29 Sidney Crosby (25)
Assists: Jamie Oleksiak, Jake Guentzel

2nd Period
NJD 5:15 Will Butcher (3, PPG)
Assists: Damon Severson, Taylor Hall

NJD 7:20 Blake Coleman (11)
Assists: Drew Stafford, Pavel Zacha

NJD 8:54 Nico Hischier (17)
Assists: John Moore, Taylor Hall

3rd Period

PIT 3:13 Brian Dumoulin (5)
Assist: Sidney Crosby

PIT 10:52 Phil Kessel (30)
Assists: Derick Brassard, Conor Sheary[/hide]