Devils Edged by Red Hot Penguins

Well, the good news is that you can kind of see things beginning to break if you are of an optimistic bent.

After last night’s debacle in Detroit, the Devils returned home for the second half of a back-to-back as they welcomed the Pittsburgh Penguins to town.

The Pens had come in with six straight wins while the Devils had dropped five straight losses. Up that to seven straight W’s for Pittsburgh and six straight regulation losses for the Devils. The Devils were defeated 3-2.

The big news coming out of the NHL and NHLPA today was that all games between American-based and Canadian-based clubs will be postponed from December 20 through December 23. This is a response to the ongoing COVID pandemic to mitigate teams needed to cross the border.

Necessary when you consider that two more teams postponed their games completely through the Christmas break in the Detroit Red Wings (the Devils’ opponent last night) and the Toronto Maple Leafs.

With that news, the Devils game on Thursday, December 23 versus the Montreal Canadiens has been postponed until further notice. The new date will be announced at a future date.

The Devils are still the walking wounded. The good news is that no one else entered COVID Protocol for this game and there were no other additions to he Injured Reserve.

In fact, they actually got some reinforcements. Chase DeLeo was able to be recalled from AHL Utica but did not play tonight as the Devils still dressed Mason Geertsen as a defenseman. They also had a full compliment of forwards as Jesper Bratt was well enough to play tonight. He missed last night’s game with a non-COVID illness.

Mackenzie Blackwood remains day-to-day with a sore neck suffered in the Vegas game last week.

With Akira Schmid getting the nod between the pipes in Detroit last night, it was up to Jon Gillies making his Devils debut tonight. It was his 14th NHL career game overall (his 12 start in the NHL) and his last game since a game earlier this month for the St. Louis Blues against the Anaheim Ducks.

That game ended strangely as the Ducks’ Troy Terry won the game in overtime on a penalty shot and Gillies lost his only prior start of the season.

Gillies became the sixth goaltender the Devils have used this season – a franchise record for goalies used in a season and, as Devils play-by-play man Steve Cangialosi pointed out on the MSG+ broadcast, we haven’t even hit Christmas yet!

Tonight, Gillies largely played well, making 19 saves on 22 total Penguins shots for an .864 save percentage. This included stopping two of three Pittsburgh shorthanded shots and 17 of their 19 shots at even strength.

For the Pens, Tristan Jarry was in net and stopped 17 of the Devils’ 19 total shots – 19 shots was a season low for New Jersey – for a nightly .895 save percentage. He turned aside the Devils’ only shorthanded shot and nine of their ten 5-on-5 shots.

The big news, though, was the seven of eight Devils power play shots that Jarry stopped. The Pens were 0-for-2 on the power play while the Devils were 1-for-5. That is a big deal, the Devils notching a power play goal since the Penguins had gone a franchise record 15 games without giving up a power play goal. It ended up 40 power play attempts that thwarted by the Pens until Nate Bastian broke through in the third period of this game. We will get to that in time.

It was Star Wars Night at the Rock as the Devils were trying to bring some festive fun to an atmosphere that could get depressing for fans who have put up with a lot of late.

We talked about Pittsburgh’s prowess on the PK and that was on display to begin the game.

The Pens would kill a Dominik Simon slashing penalty 6:02 into the contest. At 8:31 gone by, Pittsburgh was again on the penalty kill when Sidney Crosby was called for tripping Marian Studenic.

This power play would not go the way the Devils wanted, though. At 9:19 gone by in the period, Jack Hughes tried to pass to Dougie Hamilton up at the point. Teddy Blueger of the Pens read the play and intercepted the pass, timing it perfectly, tipping the puck by a flat-footed Hamilton, who went down trying to sweep the puck away from Blueger.

But Blueger had chipped it by him and was up the ice and on his way. He cut in alone on Gillies and slid it under the goalie’s right pad and into the net. The goal came unassisted and was Pittsburgh’s first shorthanded goal of the season to make it 1-0.

To make matters worse, Pittsburgh killed off the rest of the penalty.

The Pens took that lead into the second period where they would double it.

Just 1:03 into the new frame, Marcus Pettersson gained the Devils zone along the left-wing boards and waited for Danton Heinen to join the play. Pettersson hit him with a cross-ice pass and Heinen roofed a shot by Gillies to make it 2-0 Penguins. Jason Zucker had the secondary assist.

The Devils, however, had a pretty quick response for this goal.

Just 1:17 later, Yegor Sharangovich curled back as he was deep in the Pittsburgh zone, along the near boards. He got it to Ty Smith at the far point. Smith shot and Janne Kuokkanen was in front, able to redirect Smith’s shot by Jarry on his backhand in a nice skill move. That cut the Pens lead in half to 2-1.

A little bit later, at 7:01 gone by in the second, the Devils were back on the power play when, as the teams were going to their benches for a television timeout, Jarry gave Geertsen a butt end with his stick as the two players were passing. Jarry received a double minor for butt ending while Geertsen was assessed a minor for unsportsmanlike conduct.

The Penguins would kill off that power play, of course, but the Devils were chipping away.

Geertsen would make his presence felt late in the second as well when he absolutely trucked Simon at the Devils blue line minutes before the second break.

The third period would see Pittsburgh retake a two-goal lead midway through.

At 9:31 gone by, Kuokkanen did not clear the puck up the glass, instead opting to make a pass along the boards that was easily kept in by the Pens.

Chad Ruhwedel moved it to Simon, got the puck up top to Mike Matheson. Matheson blasted a shot with Sam Lafferty providing a screen in front of the Devils net. Matheson’s shot went in and the Pens had a 3-1 lead.

But the small moment of victory for the Devils was coming.

At the 10:35 mark of the third, Matheson was called for cross checking Andreas Johnsson putting the Devils back on the man advantage.

Then, at the 11:12 mark, Pavel Zacha got the puck to PP quarterback Hamilton at the point. Hamilton let loose a shot with Nate Bastian going to the hard area in front of the Penguins net.

Bastian got a piece of the shot with his stick and the puck was redirected past Jarry to make it 3-2 in this game and become the first power play goal scored on the Penguins in 15 games. They had killed 40 straight chances by their opponents and the Devils power play – of all things – were the ones to finally break through.

Hey, that’s hockey.

Suddenly the Devils were back in the game as well. Gillies would be pulled for the extra attacker with about 2:15 left in the game. It nearly paid off as, with seconds to go in the game, Johnsson was hit with a stretch pass, spilt the Pittsburgh defense but was stopped by Jarry as time ran out.

The Pens hung on for the 3-2 victory over a Devils team that looked a lot better than the night before.

The Devils were outshot 22-19 – again, a season low in total shots for New Jersey. The Devils also won 49-percent of the game’s faceoffs with Zacha, playing center tonight, winning 71-percent of his draws to lead there.

The Pens ended up with 14 total team penalty minutes while the Devils logged eight. The had 17 hits to Pittsburgh’s 13. The Pens led in blocked shots with 18 to the Devils’ nine. The Devils had five giveaways as a team to the Penguins’ three.

Damon Severson again led all Devils skaters in time on ice with 27:19 – including 1:21 on the power play and 1:03 on the PK. Hamilton led the defensemen in PP time with 4:38 logged out of his 23:06. Jonas Siegenthaler logged 1:23 of PK time out of his 23:34 of total ice time to lead in that category.

For the forwards, Bratt came back to lead in total ice time with 19:37 (including 4:16 on the power play). Special teams-wise, saw Hughes lead in PP time with 4:39 and Dawson Mercer in shorthanded time with 49 seconds.

Hamilton led in shots on goal with four. Michael McLeod led in hits with four. Siegenthaler led in blocks with four. Hughes led in giveaways with three and Kevin Bahl led in takeaways with two.

The Devils, due to the postponement of the game against Montreal, will now play their final game prior to the Christmas break on Tuesday as they travel to Pittsburgh to take on these same Penguins.

That game is at 7 PM on December 21, being shown on MSG+ here in the tri-state area. We will have coverage for you then. Until then, have a great new week everyone!

Devils Run Down in Motor City

Things just keep going from bad to worse for the New Jersey Devils.

Exhibit A (or C, D, E?), as they traveled to Detroit to the Little Caesars Arena to take on the Detroit Red Wings and word came down that they were going to be without another defenseman… and their starting goaltender… and their leading scorer

But hey, at least their entire coaching staff was intact, unlike the Red Wings. That’s good, right?

Combined, the two teams had 13 players and personnel in COVID Protocol. The Devils added defenseman PK Subban to their list while the Wings needed to call up a head coach to take over because Jeff Blashill was on their list.

Yes, you read that right. The Red Wings needed to recall Grand Rapids Griffins head coach Ben Simon from the AHL and one of his assistants to stand in behind the bench. Chalk that one up to 2021, folks.

Detroit was also without their starting goalie Alex Nedeljkovic as he was put into COVID Protocol.

Not to be outdone, the Devils’ starting goalie Mackenzie Blackwood did not even make the trip to Michigan as he is day-to-day with a neck injury suffered Thursday against Vegas when teammate Tomas Tatar ran into him.

As for the Devils’ leading scorer? Jesper Bratt missed tonight’s game with what the team is calling a non-COVID illness.

All-in-all, these teams were decimated. However, the Red Wings were a lot better equipped to deal with that decimation partly because the Devils were not able to call reinforcements up from the Utica Comets.

Utica is dealing with COVID issues of their own, so when the Comets tweeted this morning that two players had been recalled to New Jersey and then the Tweet was quickly deleted, there was good reason.

The Devils could not call those players (originally identified as defensemen Reilly Walsh and Nikita Okhotiuk) up due to Utica’s problems with COVID and wanting to contain the virus and not further spreading it between Utica and New Jersey.

So this led to the Devils needing to dress Mason Geertsen as a defenseman again (pairing him with Kevin Bahl) and going with just 11 forwards and six defensemen. Having a short bench would not be kind to the Devils.

In goal, without Blackwood, the Devils gave Akira Schmid his second NHL start and his third appearance. He made his first start against the Islanders on Long Island last weekend and played the third period against the Flyers in Philly in mop up duty early this week. Newly acquired Jon Gillies backed Schmid up.

He made 25 saves on 30 Detroit total shots for an .833 save percentage on the night. He stopped the Red Wings’ only power play shot. He turned aside 24 of Detroit’s 29 shots at full strength.

The Wings also had to juggle their goaltending and recalled Calvin Pickard from AHL Grand Rapids. However, tonight Detroit started Thomas Greiss. Greiss made 31 saves on 33 total Devils shots, notching a .939 save percentage on the night. He made two saves on three total Devils shorthanded shots. At even strength, he turned aside 29 of 30 Devils shots.

Each team put up an ofer on the power play with the Devils 0-for-2 and the Red Wings 0-for-3.

Of note was that Devils wee wearing their new black third uniforms for the second time in history and the first time on the road, with the Wings in their road whites on home ice.

This is the first of three meetings between the Devils and the Wings, which will equal the amount of times the Devils played the Flyers this season. It is also the first time the teams have played since February 25, 2020 – a 4-1 Devils win – which occurred right before the shutdown in the 2019-20 season.

The NHL saw five games postponed due to COVID Protocol tonight alone. How would this game fare with what was going on between the two participants in Motown?

Detroit ended up with the 1-0 lead 16:39 into the game on a strange one.

Filip Hronek dumped the puck into the near corner. The puck took a weird bounce as Schmid came out of his net to play it. Instead of riding the bottom of the dasher around, it hopped back out to Dylan Larkin, who was coming in on the forecheck. Larkin put the puck into the now-empty Devils cage.

Everyone’s first thought – myself included – turned to Joe Louis Arena and the springy end boards. Devils’ MSG+ studio analyst Bryce Salvador had a more reasonable explanation, though.

Where Hronek’s dump in hit was the Zamboni entrance door area. Schmid, being new to the NHL and inexperienced, did not know where the gate was located and, when it hit the lip at the bottom, he assumed he would get a true bounce. That was not the case and, instead, Detroit had the early lead.

But the Devils, at this point, had an answer. With less than a minute to go in the first period, 49 to be exact, the Devils would equal the score.

Michael McLeod got a pass from Jimmy Vesey and cut into the middle of the Wings zone, just inside the blue line. McLeod unleashed a “knuckleball” shot that fluttered in on Greiss, handcuffing the Detroit goalie and beating him.

This was McLeod’s first non-empty net goal of the season and the secondary assist went to Jonas Siegenthaler.

The Devils got into some penalty trouble in the beginning of the second period. Kevin Bahl was off for holding Vladislav Namestnikov at 5:23 and then Dougie Hamilton was called for a cross check against Tyler Bertuzzi at 6:34 to put Detroit on a 5-on-3 for 49 seconds.

This was the second straight game where the Devils faced a substantial 5-on-3 kill. But, unlike against the Golden Knights, the Devils were able to hold on to finish this one off and kill the whole thing.

Detroit, though, would get their goal. At even strength at the 11:48 mark, Larkin got his second of the game.

Pius Suter passed down low to Namestnikov, who then followed with a great pass to Larkin in the slot. Larkin snapped the puck by Schmid to give the Wings back the lead, 2-1.

They would strike again very fast.

Less than a minute later, at 12:27 gone by, Moritz Seider gained the Devils zone, patiently waited and made a backhand pass to Bertuzzi. Bertuzzi took the pass and snapped a shot upstairs over Schmid to make it 3-1 as the Devils were simply caught puck watching the rookie phenom Seider.

Devils coach Lindy Ruff elected to use his timeout after the Bertuzzi goal in order to attempt to settle the Devils down.

But the game was broken completely open by the Red Wings at the 15:47 mark of the second when Larkin completed his hat trick.

Southampton, New Jersey native Kyle Criscuolo chipped the puck to Larkin, who gathered it in stride through the neutral zone. Larkin cut in on Schmid and went to his forehand to score his third of the night.

This was the second hat trick scored on the Devils in three games – Cam Atkinson of the Flyers did so last week – and the third hat trick of the year. Mark Scheifele of the Winnipeg Jets had the other.

Off of the ensuing faceoff and following some cross checks thrown between Hronek and McLeod, those two went at it in a scrap.

What resulted was a bit weird. Although the gloves were dropped by both players and punches were thrown, neither received a five-minute fighting major. Instead, Hronek was assessed two for roughing while McLeod got a double minor for roughing.

This put the Devils down without another forward – remember they were already playing with only 11 – for four minutes, including a power play for Detroit.

It was good thinking by McLeod to try to spark the Devils to something – anything – after falling behind 4-1. An odd choice of calls by the officials would put the kibosh on that.

The penalty, which started at the 16:07 mark of the second. At the 17:25 mark, the Devils would exact a bit of revenge.

Damon Severson made an alley-oop pass to Dawson Mercer out of the Devils zone. Mercer took the pass and cut in on Greiss. His shot went off of the Detroit goalie’s blocker, banked off of the near post and into the net. It was in and out fast but had entered the net for a Devils’ shorthanded goal.

This was Mercer’s first career NHL shorthanded goal, congratulations to him – a bright spot in what has been a rough early season for the Devils.

It was 4-2 as the third period began with the Devils still somewhat within striking distance.

Hope of getting back into the game was closed when Bertuzzi notched his second of the game 14:07 into the final frame to give us our final score of 5-2.

Another of Detroit’s good young players, Lucas Raymond, kept the play going in the Devils zone as Larkin was able to dig the puck out of the far corner for Bertuzzi. He fed a pass to Bertuzzi at the far faceoff circle down low. Bertuzzi then roofed his shot by Schmid in a similar way to his first goal.

When the final horn sounded on this one, there were no fireworks as in the Vegas game. It simply petered out and New Jersey had dropped their fifth consecutive in regulation.

The Devils outshot the Wings 33-30 and won 48-percent of the game’s faceoffs. Yegor Sharangovich led Devils centers with a 67-percent winning clip personally.

The Devils ended the game with eight total team penalty minutes while the Red Wings accumulated six. The Devils outhit the Wings 21-10. Detroit had 16 total hits to New Jersey’s 14. The Devils actually only a single team giveaway to the Wings’ 17 in a surprising and welcoming stat.

Time on ice saw Severson far-and-away total the most minutes with 29:01 (including 1:45 on the power play and 4:01 on the penalty kill). With Ryan Graves out, it is falling on Severson to eat up some valuable minutes on the blue line.

Jack Hughes led the forwards with 20:45 of total TOI – which included just 15 seconds of PP time on the special teams. Mercer led forwards in power play time with 1:47 while Vesey led in PK time amongst forwards with 2:45.

Elsewhere, shots on goal were led by McLeod, Mercer, Hughes and Hamilton who each had four. Nate Bastian was a hit machine, leading the way with seven. Siegenthaler led in blocked shots with three. Hamilton had the Devils’ lone giveaway while, according to, no Devils player registered a takeaway.

Next up, it’s out of the frying pan and into the fire. The Devils return home to Prudential Center for the back half of a back-to-back – the first game of a home-and-home with the Pittsburgh Penguins.

The still depleted Devils will have no choice but to soldier on. Puck drop for that game is 7 PM tomorrow on MSG+.

We will have a recap for you right here following the game. Here’s hoping your turnaround goes a lot better than the Devils’ does. Have a great Sunday everyone!