Devils fall short to Penguins, 3-2, for sixth straight loss

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NEWARK — The Devils took the ice on Sunday needing a victory to snap a losing streak amid mounting frustrations and trying to fight through illness and injury. With five players in COVID protocol, others dealing with injuries and some players having to play through non-COVID illnesses, it has been frustrating for the Devils, to say the least.

That frustration continued Sunday with a 3-2 home loss to the Pittsburgh Penguins at Prudential Center, the sixth consecutive defeat for the Devils. A series of missed opportunities and penalties not called by officials saw Devils fans and players both show visible frustration.

The Devils surrendered a shorthanded goal to Teddy Blueger in the first period to take a 1-0 deficit into the first intermission. Just after the first minute of the second period, the Penguins' lead grew to 2-0 after Danton Heinen found the net for his ninth goal of the season.

Dec 19, 2021; Newark, New Jersey, USA; New Jersey Devils defenseman Dougie Hamilton (7) shoots the puck as Pittsburgh Penguins defenseman Mike Matheson (5) defends during the second period at Prudential Center. Mandatory Credit: Vincent Carchietta-USA TODAY Sports
Dec 19, 2021; Newark, New Jersey, USA; New Jersey Devils defenseman Dougie Hamilton (7) shoots the puck as Pittsburgh Penguins defenseman Mike Matheson (5) defends during the second period at Prudential Center. Mandatory Credit: Vincent Carchietta-USA TODAY Sports

A minute and 17 seconds later, the Devils got on the board as Janne Kuokkanen's fourth goal of the season brought the lead back down to a one-goal game.

The Devils pulled Gilles from goal in the final two minutes of regulation while trailing by a goal, but were unable to get a shot on net until the final seconds, when Andreas Johnsson's shot was turned aside by Tristan Jarry in net.

In the third period, the Penguins scored again on a Mike Matheson goal from the blue line. Minutes later, Matheson headed to the penalty box for a crosscheck, leading to a Nathan Bastian power play goal that brought the lead back to a single goal.

Looking for shooting stars

The Devils continue to struggle offensively as many of the players the team is expecting to score goals simply are not doing so. Dougie Hamilton, Nathan Bastian and Pavel Zacha were the only Devils with multiple shots on goal during the game.

Cold streaks by the likes of Yegor Sharangovich and Dawson Mercer, as well as a recently returning Jack Hughes, are concerning. None of those three players registered an official shot on goal on Sunday.

Gilles in goal

In their 30th game of the season, the Devils had Jon Gilles start in front of their net Sunday for the first time. Acquired in a trade with the St. Louis Blues on Wednesday, Gilles became the sixth different goalie to start a game for the Devils this season, tying a franchise record for an entire season.

Gilles stopped 19 of the 22 shots he faced in his debut in net for the Devils.

Dec 19, 2021; Newark, New Jersey, USA; Pittsburgh Penguins center Teddy Blueger (53) scores a goal past New Jersey Devils goaltender Jon Gillies (32) during the first period at Prudential Center. Mandatory Credit: Vincent Carchietta-USA TODAY Sports
Dec 19, 2021; Newark, New Jersey, USA; Pittsburgh Penguins center Teddy Blueger (53) scores a goal past New Jersey Devils goaltender Jon Gillies (32) during the first period at Prudential Center. Mandatory Credit: Vincent Carchietta-USA TODAY Sports

Falling short

The Devils went 1-for-5 on the power play Sunday, breaking a tie at the bottom of the league and actually improving on the team's 12.5 percent power play percentage. In the opening minutes, the Devils got multiple shots to improve on that number and a goal was scored on a Devils power play, though it wasn't by a player wearing red.

Teddy Blueger intercepted a Jack Hughes pass and scored a shorthanded goal, his seventh of the year, to give the Penguins a 1-0 lead in the first period. For the Devils, it was the sixth time they allowed a shorthanded goal, the most in the NHL. In comparison, the Devils have scored only 11 goals when having a man advantage, including Bastian's third period goal on the power play.

Email: aitken@northjersey.com

Twitter: @robertaitkenjr

This article originally appeared on NorthJersey.com: NJ Devils drop sixth straight to Pittsburgh Penguins