Sometimes it’s better if you’re just thrown into things.
Mackenzie Blackwood was the scheduled starter, took warmups and was prepared to go. Until just as he came off the ice and was pulled from the game by the Devils’ medical staff. He was dressed in street clothes come game time and did not play. No word on just why he was pulled yet.
In his place went Scott Wedgewood, and he played spectacular. He made 40 saves on 42 Pittsburgh shots for a .952 save percentage. He was phenomenal, with the Devils playing confidently in front of him.
Another game time decision was Pavel Zacha. He took a two-handed slash from Buffalo’s Colin Miller in the Devils’ last game and did not play. He joined Blackwood and Will Butcher as the Devils’ scratches. Michael McLeod slotted into the lineup for Zacha – the Devils’ points leader.
It is now the mid-point of the Devils’ season and they were seeing the Penguins for the first time in 2021. The two teams will play their eight games against one another in just over a month’s time. It was the first meeting between the teams since March 10, 2020, more than a year ago and what turned out to be the last game of 2020 for the Devils.
Although we ran down the Devils’ missing in action, it is not like the Pens were at full health either. Evgeny Malkin was missing after taking a nasty hit against Boston in the Penguins’ last game, a 2-1 loss to the Bruins.
Wedgewood made those 40 saves as mentioned above, stopped two of the Penguins’ three power play shots and was 38-for-39 at even strength. Pittsburgh was 1-for-2 on the man advantage.
Facing him was Tristan Jarry, who stopped 32-of-35 for a .914 save percentage, was 0-for-1 on Devils power play shots as New Jersey scored on their lone power play and he stopped 32-of-34 Devils shots at even strength.
Jack Hughes got the scoring started at 10:02 into the game. This one was a beauty as he got the puck from Ty Smith and, with no room, stickhandled through the Pittsburgh defense, shooting from a sharp angle and scoring upstairs shortside. Kyle Palmieri had the secondary assist. That goal matches his rookie goal total from last season.
That gave the Devils a 1-0 lead as we headed into the first intermission.
Early in the second period, the Devils lost forward Nate Bastian who left the game with an injury. He would not return and the Devils played the rest of the game with 11 forwards.
The Devils doubled up their lead on the power play at 8:42 of the second. Hughes and PK Subban played catch, with Subban switching positions with him to set up for a clear shot. Jesper Bratt got it at the half wall and set up Subban, allowing the d-man to fire off a blast that beat Jarry cleanly to make it 2-0 Devils.
At 10:19 of the second, Travis Zajac made it 3-0 when he tipped a Damon Severson wrist shot by Jarry. The Situation Room in Toronto checked the goal for a high stick, but Zajac was clean and it was 3-0 Devils.
The Pens would get one back before the end of the second, very close to the end of the second, like with 13 seconds left. It came on the power play when Kasperi Kapanen went low to high to Kris Letang. Letang took a shot from the point and Jake Guentzel tipped it by Wedgewood to make it 3-1.
The final Penguin goal came with 4.5 seconds to go in the game. It came with Jarry pulled in the third. Pittsburgh’s Brandon Tanev won the offensive zone faceoff. Letang got it to Bryan Rust, who wristed a shot by Wedgewood to make it 3-2. But the Devils won the faceoff off of the goal and time expired with a Devil victory.
The Devils were outshot 42-35 with Sami Vatanen leading with four shots on goal. The Devils won 47-percent of the games faceoffs with McLeod winning 60-percent of his to lead the centers. The Devils wee also outhit 27-19 with Bastian leading with four even with him missing most of the second and all of the third with injury. The Pens had more blocked shots at 19 to the Devils’ 11. Smith and Vatanen led in that category with three each. The Devils had more giveaways by a slight margin at 12 to the Pens’ 11. Takeaways were led by Hughes with three.
Ice time was led by Subban with 23:35. Hughes led the forwards with 19:51, just edging by Zajac, who had 19:42 in his time shadowing Sidney Crosby all game. With just one power play and the Devils scoring quickly on it, the unit of Zajac, Miles Wood, Bratt, Hughes and Subban all had 24 seconds of power play time.
The first star of the game was Hughes with two points, the second star was Wedgewood and the third was Subban.
Next up, at 1 PM on Saturday at Prudential Center, it is game two of this three game set. The Penguins will be in the house again. Of course, we will see you then following the game with a recap of the afternoon’s action.
Until then, stay safe everyone!