With both teams coming into this game off of victories (the Devils over the Sabres and the Penguins over the Rangers), it was primed to be a good matchup at Prudential Center as the Pittsburgh Penguins visited.
And it was, especially towards the end, as the Pens won the game 6-4.
There was no MSG+2 pregame show tonight with good reason. Both Erika Wachter and Bryce Salvador are in COVID Protocol. Best wishes to both of them for a speedy recovery.
Nico Hischier did not make an appearance tonight either. He will make his return on Sunday at the earliest. Coach Lindy Ruff wanted him to get in a few more practices before coming back.
In goal, the Devils went back to Mackenzie Blackwood after Aaron Dell got the start on Thursday. Blackwood made 21 saves on 26 Pens shots for an .808 save percentage. He stopped 17-of-20 at even strength and stopped 4-of-6 on the power play as Pittsburgh went 2-for-4 on the man advantage.
For the Pens, Casey DeSmith got the start. He stopped 25-of-29 total for an .862 save percentage. He stopped 22-of-26 at even strength, was one-for-one shorthanded an stopped both of the Devils’ power play shots as the Devils went 0-for-1. S
Some calls that should not have been made were made against the Devils, and some that should have been made in the Devils’ favor were not made. It was a rough night from a Devils’ perspective in terms of the officiating.
The Devils had taken 2-of-3 from the Penguins this season, but there was a new wrinkle. Travis Zajac used to take the Sidney Crosby assignment, but without him, the Devils would need to find a new way to stop him.
Miles Wood got the scoring kicked off 3:01 into the game when Pavel Zacha won a draw deep in the Penguins’ zone. Jesper Bratt got on the boards to retrieve the puck and got it on net after faking a pass to the point. Wood was camped out in front and fought off a Pens defender to get the puck in the net. It was 1-0 Devils.
Zacha’s assist made him the first Devils to get to 25 points on the year.
Before the period was out, Pittsburgh would take the lead, however.
It began at the 10:00 mark when Jared McCann scored on the power play. Ty Smith and Blackwood had just stopped a Pittsburgh 3-on-1, but New Jersey took a too many men on the ice penalty during the play.
On the power play, Bryan Rust got the puck to Crosby at the point. Crosby blasted one, and Blackwood made the save. The rebound sat right down in front of McCann on the doorstep. He put it in and the game was tied up at one.
Brian Dumoulin would give the Pens the lead with 47 seconds to go in the first. Cody Ceci got the puck to Dumoulin and he took a quick shot on net. It deflected in off of Janne Kuokkanen, going in under and through his left arm. That made it 2-1 Pens going into the first intermission. Sam Lafferty had the secondary assist on the goal.
In the second, neither team could pull away. Jack Hughes tied things up with his second goal in two games after breaking a ten-game goal scoring drought in Buffalo. The goal came 5:39 into the second when Yegor Sharangovich took a shot that was turned aside by DeSmith. Kuokkanen then got the rebound and shot, with the save being made again and the rebound coming to Hughes below the goal line. He shot from this impossible angle and it went in to tie the score at two.
But the Pens would retake the lead at 17:36 when Colton Sceviour scored. Kris Letang took a shot and the rebound popped up with Sceviour batting it in (under the crossbar, so with no high stick) past Blackwood. Mark Jankowski had the secondary assist.
And that took us into the second intermission, with Pittsburgh leading 3-2.
But the scoresheet was about to blow up in the third.
It began with Rust at 4:06 into the new frame. This one came on the power play when Crosby passed to McCann who sent to the right side for Rust, who blasted one off the post and in. Jake Guentzel was the screen in front. That made it 4-2 Pens.
At 10:02, Crosby made it 5-2 when John Marino passed from the point to Guentzel behind the Devils’ net. Guentzel fed Crosby in the slot and he whipped the puck in, making it 5-3 Pittsburgh.
But things were not done. At 11:34, Jesper Boqvist got the puck in the far corner and threw it towards the Pittsburgh net. It deflected in off of Letang and in. The Devils still had life on Boqvist’s unassisted goal. It was now 5-3 Pens.
The Devils would pull Blackwood with about 3:45 to go in regulation, wasting no time. And it would pay off in form of a weird goal.
At the 18:24 mark of the third, Wood hounded Dumoulin behind the net. Dumoulin, trying to get rid of the puck, threw it in front and it went in off of DeSmith’s leg. The goal was unassisted and credited to Wood (his second of the game). That cut the Pens’ lead to one: 5-4.
The Penguins’ coaching staff briefly mulled over challenging for goalie interference, but replays showed there was none and they did not risk it.
Rust would add an empty net goal at 19:35 (assists to Guentzel and Letang) and that iced it, giving us our final: 6-4.
It was a strange one with the Devils outshooting the Pens 31-27. The Devils winning 51-percent of the game’s faceoffs. The Penguins outhitting the Devils 18-12. The Pens with more blocked shots at 12-10. And the Devils with one more giveaways at eight to Pittsburgh’s seven.
Zacha won 62-percent of his faceoffs to lead the centers in that department. Smith led in time on ice with 23:45. Hughes led the forwards with 21:30.
Wood led in shots on goal with three. Dmitry Kulikov led in hits with three. Bratt, Sami Vatanen and Kulikov led in blocks with two each. And takeaways were le by Michael McLeod with two.
Next up, the Devils will finish off this two-game set with the Penguins at home on Sunday. Puck drop is 7 PM for that one and we will have a post up as soon as possible on Sunday night (I apologize for the last game – site troubles preventing me from getting the post up in a timely fashion).
Before we go, our condolences to the family and friends of Dennis “Red” Gendron, a Devils assistant coach in with the Cup winning clubs in 1995 and 2000. He passed away suddenly earlier today. He had been serving as the head men’s hockey coach at the University of Maine. May he rest in peace.