Slumping Pens search for spark in New Jersey

The New Jersey Devils for some time have been playing for the future and for pride. It is much different for their visitors to the Prudential Center on Tuesday, the Pittsburgh Penguins.

The Penguins (39-23-6, 84 points) head to Newark, N.J., trying to pull out of a swoon that has come at a tough time.

They have put themselves in good position for the playoffs, entering Monday third in the Metropolitan Division, by winning at a good clip through a boatload of injuries. Now that they are relatively healthy, though, things have gotten critical.

Pittsburgh dropped two division games at home over the weekend -- the first two of 10 in a row against Metropolitan Division foes -- and has dropped eight of its last 10 overall.

"It's about making the right decisions and keeping the game simple and working for one another. I think that's the important part of it," Pittsburgh coach Mike Sullivan told reporters recently. "Right now, I think our team looks a little disconnected. It's not collective, cooperative play. There has to be five guys working cohesively out there, working together in all three zones, both with the puck and without the puck. ... We have to get back to our team game. That's what it boils down to."

The Penguins players held a closed-door meeting Sunday after a 6-2 loss to Carolina.

"We can say we're not getting the bounces, but it's our own fault that things are going like that," Pittsburgh center Teddy Blueger told The Athletic. "The things that are in our control, we're not doing a good enough job of to put ourselves in a position to win. I don't think it's really X's and O's. I think it's more attitude and work ethic and will to win than anything."

New Jersey (28-28-12, 68 points) is the only Metropolitan Division club out of playoff contention, although finishing above .500 could still be a goal.

That, and making things difficult for teams that are vying for playoff spots and positions.

"We want to be spoilers," New Jersey interim coach Alain Nasreddine said.

"Obviously, [we are] not going to make the playoffs. That's going to be real tough. But guys are playing for something. They're playing for this year. They're playing for next year. They're playing for a contract. They're playing for a spot on this team.

"You can tell. There's urgency in our play. It's good."

The Devils are finding a way to get pumped for playing teams that are in a desperate situation.

"We're going to play a lot of teams down the stretch that every point matters, and those are fun games to play in," said New Jersey winger Kyle Palmieri. "With how young a roster we have, it's a learning process, how to win games this time of year. Whether or not you're the team fighting for those points, it's something that we're going to grow (from) as a group and continue to go out there and compete."

While the Penguins were dropping two games over the weekend, the Devils were busy winning two in a row, against St. Louis and the New York Rangers on Friday and Saturday.

"We played two pretty good teams," goalie Mackenzie Blackwood said. "We played the right way, got rewarded for it. ... That was a big weekend for us. Gained a lot of traction. We've just got to stick with it and keep moving forward."

--Field Level Media
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