The Devils came into tonight having won five straight on Prudential Center ice. The Pittsburgh Penguins had lost eight of their last ten. Something had to give.
Unfortunately, it was the Devils who blinked. They lost 5-2 tonight to halt their home win streak at five.
Some important roster moves to get to first as Fredrik Claesson was out mending some aches and pains. In his place was the recently-recalled Matt Tennyson. The man who was traded to the Devils along with Claesson from Carolina, Janne Kuokkanen, had also been recalled recently. He was a game-time decision, but did play, slotting in for Michael McLeod up front.
Kuokkanen was making his Devils debut, but not his NHL debut. According to Hockey-Reference.com, he did play in 11 games over the 2017-18 and 2018-19 seasons with the Hurricanes.
Still, it was great to see a talented player who had been tearing up the AHL of late, get a shot with the big club. Kuokkanen had an even plus/minus rating, three hits and a turnover in 12:04 of ice time. He played 13 seconds on the power play. He skated primarily on the fourth line centered by Kevin Rooney with John Hayden on the other wing, although that did get shuffled as the game went along, of course.
In goal, Mackenzie Blackwood was back in net and made 28 stops on 32 shots against for an .875 save percentage. Going for Pittsburgh was Matt Murray who turned aside 20 of the 22 shots he faced for a .909 save percentage.
This was the first time the Devils had faced the Pens with Sidney Crosby in the Pittsburgh lineup. What kind of an impact would he have on the night’s proceedings?
It seemed none, although there was plenty of footage all night of Crosby assisting on Devils’ interim coach Alain Nasreddine’s only NHL goal. He scored in his hometown of Montreal when he was with the Pens and Crosby set him up.
The Penguins got out to a 1-0 lead 8:29 into the game when Evan Rodrigues scored. Jared McCann forced a turnover just outside the Devils’ zone and Rodrigues took it. He skated to the near half wall and stopped. He shot and the puck deflected off of Tennyson’s shinpad and went upstairs over Blackwood’s shoulder. This was officially Pittsburgh’s first shot of the game that they scored on.
The Devils had an answer, however, when Nikita Gusev scored at 12:46 gone by on the power play. Jack Johnson was called for a delay of game for clearing the puck over the glass. On the man advantage, PK Subban got the puck quickly to Pavel Zacha up ice. Zacha then gave to Gusev, who shot from the near faceoff circle. The shot trickled by Murray to tie the game.
On special teams, the Devils went 1-for-3 on the power play with four shots. Pittsburgh went 0-for-4 with seven shots as the Devils cooled off one of the league’s best power play units. Neither team registered a shorthanded shot.
The 1-1 tie took us into the first intermission. In the second period, Justin Schultz gave the Pens back the lead at 2-1 when Evgeni Malkin took a pass just inside the Devils’ blue line. He passed cross-ice to Schultz, who shot upstairs to beat Blackwood top shelf. Bryan Rust had the secondary assist. Malkin finished the game with three points, this assist and two goals in the third period.
The first of those came after Pittsburgh killed 1:42 of a 5-on-3. The Devils had their chances all night, including this opportunity, Jack Hughes coming out of the penalty box in the second period and hitting the post (although Murray did get a piece of the puck, directing it towards the post) and Rooney missing on a 2-on-1 with Kuokkonen in the third. On that last one, Murray also got a piece of the puck, directing it subtly over his crossbar.
Anyway, back to Malkin’s goal. It came 7:11 into the third when he came rushing up the right wing. He shot and Blackwood got a little of it, but it ended up trickling behind him and in. Kris Letang had the lone assist. That made it 3-1 Pens.
The Devils managed to get back into things when Miles Wood scored at the 10:24 mark. Nico HIschier got the puck up and over the Penguins’ defense and Wood took the pass in stride. He cut in on Murray, with Brian Dumoulin on his back. He snapped it by Murray to cut the Pittsburgh lead back to one at 3-2.
Malkin restored the two-goal lead when, at 13:18 gone by, he scored. The Pens were applying pressure in the New Jersey zone when an errant pass deflected off a Devils stick and right to Malkin in front. He wristed the puck by Blackwood to make it 4-2. That goal came unassisted.
The Devils pulled Blackwood with about 1:40 to play in regulation and Letang iced things when he scored unassisted into the empty net. That gave us our final of 5-2.
Pittsburgh outshot the Devils, 33-22 and won 61-percent of the game’s faceoffs. Travis Zajac had the highest percentage of faceoffs won for Devils’ centers at 62-percent.
The Devils outhit the Penguins, 26-18 and had more blocked shots at 18 to the Pens’ six. The Devils had a whopping 25 turnovers to Pittsburgh’s three, with Damon Severson racking up six of them. Not a good look there.
Subban led all New Jersey skaters in ice time with 27:10 total (2:49 on the power play and 3:25 shorthanded). Hischier led the forwards with 18:54 total (including 2:45 on the power play and 30 seconds killing penalties).
Shots on goal were led by Hischier with five. Hits by Rooney, Kyle Palmieri, Kuokkanen and Damon Severson with three each. Blocked shots by Severson and Dakota Mermis with five each. Takeaways were led by Hischier, Rooney, Zajac, Palmieri, Zacha and Mirco Mueller with one each.
Next up, the Devils remain home to take on the Carolina Hurricanes on Thursday. We will have coverage for you here for a matchup with a Metropolitan Division rival.
Two last notes before we wrap things up tonight.
First, congratulations to the Binghamton Devils’ Ryan Schmelzer, who was named the AHL’s Player of the Week for the period ending March 8, 2020.
The B-Devils have been extremely hot since around Christmas time and are in the mix of a playoff race in the AHL. Schmelzer had six points (two goals, four assists) in three games over the last week against the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins on Friday and Sunday and the Lehigh Valley Phantoms on Saturday, according to the news release put out by the Binghamton club.
He had two assists against Wilkes-Barre/Scranton in a 6-4 home win, a goal and an assist against Lehigh Valley in a 5-1 Devils win and an assist in a 3-0 win over the Penguins in Wilkes-Barre/Scranton.
Congrats to him again on this great honor and hopefully the B-Devils can clinch a playoff berth after a bit of a slow start to the season.
The second note is belated condolences to the friends and family of Henri “Pocket Rocket” Richard. He is an important part of hockey history as the player with the most Stanley Cup championships under his belt and an absolute legend in Montreal.
The brother of Maurice “Rocket” Richard, he will be truly missed throughout the NHL.
Again, sorry this tribute was posted so late, and condolences to his family, friends and fans.