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Casey DeSmith, Penguins return to earth in loss vs. Devils

Jonathan Bombulie
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Penguins center Sidney Crosby attacks on Devils goaltender Keith Kinkaid during the first period Tuesday, Nov. 13, 2018, in Newark, N.J.
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Devils defenseman Ben Lovejoy hits the boards trying to check Penguins left wing Garrett Wilson during the first period Tuesday.
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Penguins right wing Phil Kessel and Devils left wing Brett Seney fight during the second period.

NEWARK, N.J. — The game had been closely contested throughout. As the midpoint of the third period approached, the score remained tied.

Over the past decade, more often than not, Pittsburgh Penguins fans have become accustomed to one of their Hart Trophy winners making the play that wins the game.

On this night, though, there was another former league MVP on the ice, and he was the one who played the hero’s role.

Taylor Hall had two goals and two assists, including a tie-breaking goal in the third period, leading the New Jersey Devils to a 4-2 victory over the Pittsburgh Penguins on Tuesday night.

The goal left the Penguins reeling. A 4-0 victory over Arizona on Saturday night ended their five-game losing streak, but it didn’t turn the ship around.

The last-place Devils, meanwhile, have lost six of their last eight, with the only two wins coming at the expense of the floundering Penguins.

“You can break it down all you want,” Sidney Crosby said. “We’ve got a tie game, and we don’t get the next one and they do.”

The winning play started when Kyle Palmieri tracked down a loose puck off a faceoff in New Jersey’s defensive zone. Kris Letang jumped up to pressure Palmieri, who made a long bank pass off the boards toward Travis Zajac at the far blue line.

Zajac outdueled Brian Dumoulin for the puck and centered to Hall, who was streaking alone down the middle of the ice for a breakaway goal.

“He’s a guy that’s really opportunistic, and he feeds off turnovers and mistakes,” Crosby said. “He doesn’t need many to capitalize. Unfortunately, he was the one who was able to go in all alone.”

Phil Kessel covered for Letang, giving the Penguins enough bodies to combat New Jersey’s attack. It’s just that none of those bodies covered Hall.

“We’ve got to communicate,” coach Mike Sullivan said. “We’ve got numbers back. We just duplicate the coverage.”

The way Evgeni Malkin sees it, that was the story of the night for the Penguins. They competed. They just made too many mistakes.

In the first minute of the game, goalie Casey DeSmith couldn’t cover a loose puck in his crease, leading to a Zajac goal. In the second period, a chaotic shift in the defensive zone let Hall set up Damon Severson in the high slot to give the Devils a 2-1 lead.

The Penguins caught a break shortly afterwards when a Jesper Bratt goal was waved off because an altercation between Kessel and New Jersey’s Brett Seney broke out behind the play before the puck went in the net.

“We played hard,” Malkin said. “This is, for me, huge. You see Phil fight. You’ve never seen that before. We understand we’re a great team. We need to be shoulder to shoulder with each other.”

The Penguins had their moments.

Crosby threaded a pass through a maze of skates and sticks to set up Kessel for a backdoor power-play goal in the first period.

Early in the third, Kessel sprung Crosby up the right wing with a pass off the wall in the defensive zone. Crosby charged hard to the net, and Jake Guentzel cleaned up the rebound to make it 2-2.

It wasn’t enough. The Penguins made too many mistakes. They relied on Crosby for too much of their offense. The hole they’re slipping into grew deeper.

“I thought we had effort in spurts, but it has to be more consistent,” Sullivan said. “It has to be more consistent. We have to be willing to embrace a hard game.”

Jonathan Bombulie is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Jonathan at [email protected] or via Twitter @BombulieTrib.

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