The Devils got some extraordinary goaltending from Mackenzie Blackwood and were able to hang on during a late onslaught to defeat the Pittsburgh Penguins 2-1 at Prudential Center tonight.
The night started off with some injury news. Sami Vatanen was placed on injured reserve retroactive to November 8 as he was injured in the game at Edmonton. Also, Kevin Rooney was out tonight with an injury he suffered in the game against Ottawa on Wednesday. Colton White was recalled from AHL Binghamton, but did not play tonight. He joined John Hayden as a healthy scratch on the night.
Pittsburgh was not without their own missing pieces, bit ones at that too. Kris Letang and Sidney Crosby were out, with Crosby missing about six weeks as he had core muscle surgery this week. But that is no worry to the Penguins, as they are a pretty impressive 97-54-21 when missing Crosby during his career. They were also 3-0-1 coming into this game against Metropolitan Division foes. Also, Pens starting goalie Matt Murray was 4-0-0 at Prudential Center coming into this game.
The Devils did some shuffling of their forward lines, including moving Nico Hischier to center the top line with Jesper Bratt and Taylor Hall primarily. Jack Hughes centered a line with Miles Wood and Kyle Palmieri. Also, Jesper Boqvist slotted back in up front. The defensive pairings remained the same as the last game with Damon Severson logging the most minutes at 24:06 (11 seconds on the power play and 3:25 on the PK).
It was Military Appreciation Night at the Rock. The Devils wore special camo-themed warmup jerseys and a lot of military personnel were in attendance. This is a big night for Palmieri, as he does a lot of work with the military and veteran’s programs.
Travis Zajac got the Devils on the board just 6:59 into the game. Jesper Bratt created a turnover on an aggressive forecheck and got it to Zajac whose shot when up and over Murray to make it 1-0 Devils. This was Zajac’s first goal since the second game of the season in Buffalo back in October.
In the second period, the Penguins lost forward Nick Bjugstad as he got tangled up with Boqvist along the boards and went down awkwardly. This had Pittsburgh playing with 11 forwards the rest of the game, as he did not return.
New Jersey would double up their lead with about five seconds to go in the second when Blake Coleman scored a beautiful goal. It came just after the Devils had killed off a penalty and saw him tip the puck to himself in the neutral zone. He then sped up the left wing boards and shot. Murray was moving left to right and made the save but left the puck at the doorstep. Coleman then beat the Pens’ defenseman John Marino to the puck and chipped it in to an empty net one-handed. That made it 2-0 as the Devils headed into the third frame. The goal was unassisted.
Unfortunately, we all know the story. Eleven times in 18 games this season, the Devils have headed into the third period with the lead. Their record of holding onto that lead is not very good. And sure enough, at the eight minute mark of the third, Jack Johnson scored his first goal in 91 games to cut the Devils lead in half. The Penguins got the puck to Alex Galchenyuk in the slot and he dished aside to Johnson on the left wing. Johnson stepped up and fired over Blackwood’s shoulder to make it 2-1. This came just minutes after Pittsburgh’s Jake Guentzel had hit the crossbar on a partial breakaway.
But from here on out, Mackenzie Blackwood shut the door and the Devils bore down defensively – even when the Pens pulled Murray with a little over a minute to go in regulation – and they edged out the 2-1 win.
Neither team scored on the power play, with the Devils going 0-for-2 with three shots (as well as two shorthanded) and the Pens going 0-for-3 with four shots (three shorthanded shots as well).
The Devils won 52-percent of the game’s faceoffs and outhit the Pens 33-23. The Devils had a whopping 20 blocks to the Penguins’ eight and the Devils had nine giveaways to Pittsburgh’s five.
In goal, Murray had 19 saves on just 21 Devils shots for a .905 save percentage. Blackwood, on the other hand, made 38 saves on 39 Penguins’ shots for a .974 save percentage. Blackwood would go on to be named the game’s first star. Zajac was the second while Coleman was the third.
For the Devils, Hischier led the forwards in ice time with 19:12 (1:02 of PP time and 1:46 shorthanded). Shots on goal were led by Hall and Hischier who each had four. Coleman led in hits with eight. Bratt led blocked shots with three. Takeaways were led by Hischier, Wayne Simmonds, Palmieri, Pavel Zacha, Wood, Hughes and Mirco Mueller with one apiece.
So, following that win, the Devils will head up to Montreal tomorrow night for a Saturday night date with the Canadiens. The big question is whether John Hynes will go back to Blackwood in back-to-back games or start Cory Schneider. Either way, with Carey Price going for the Habs tonight, they will likely be throwing out their backup, none other than Keith Kinkaid. We will find out tomorrow night what the goalie situation will be like, but Blackwood was certainly on tonight and should he feel OK to go, he has earned it.