After eight-days off, the Devils could have been excused for being a bit rusty. They had dropped their last two before that midseason layoff, the first of which was to the same Pittsburgh Penguins they were going to play tonight.
And while the Pens are a force at PPG Paints Arena (having one of the better won-loss records in the league points percentage-wise at home), the road team had won the previous three games in this year’s season series between the teams.
However, the Devils were healthy with the time off. Leading scorer Jesper Bratt was back from his upper body injury suffered in St. Louis, Andreas Johnsson returned after leaving warmups with a lower body injury in the February 13 game at home against the Penguins and, the big one, Dougie Hamilton made his return after his broken jaw suffered January 2 against the Washington Capitals.
The Devils had a nearly full lineup available to them. Marian Studenic was claimed off of waivers by the Dallas Stars earlier today, so they do not have him. Colton White, Mason Geertsen and Christian Jaros were the healthy scratches for New Jersey.
Each team came in riding a two-game losing streak. The Devils had dropped the game to Pittsburgh on Super Bowl Sunday and then on February 15 to the Tampa Bay Lightning.
The Pens’ Sidney Crosby would be denied his 500th career NHL goal that Sunday in Newark but did notch it a few days later against the Philadelphia Flyers. He would be kept from hitting the back of the net tonight but not off of the scoresheet.
In net, Nico Daws got the start for the Devils and was, in short, locked in in his fourth career NHL start – earning the 6-1 win, his second NHL victory. He made 37 saves on 38 total Pittsburgh shots for a .974 save percentage on the night. On the power play, he stopped two of three shots as the Pens were 1-for-4 on the power play as a team. Daws pitched a shutout at even strength, making 35 saves on all 35 shots he saw.
The Penguins started Tristan Jarry, who stopped 14 of the 19 total shots he saw for a .737 save percentage. He gave up one goal on two Devils power play shots and turned aside 13 of the 17 shots he saw at five-on-five.
Casey DeSmith was brought on in relief of Jarry in the second period following the Devils’ fifth goal. He stopped 16 of 17 total shots for a .941 save percentage. He stopped three of the Devils’ four power play shots on him (the Devils finished with six power play shots while going 2-for-5 as a team on the man advantage). DeSmith stopped all 13 shots he had against him at even strength. The Devils with 36 total shots in the game.
The Devils came out flying, to the surprise of some – including the Pittsburgh Penguins.
Jesper Bratt scored just 1:16 into the game as Pavel Zacha sprang Nico Hischier and Bratt on a two-on-one with Penguins’ defenseman John Marino back. Hischier took the shot himself as Marino played the two-on-one well.
Jarry made the save, but the puck got loose in the crease, dribbling out to Bratt at the near side of the goal. Bratt simply tapped the puck in to make it 1-0 Devils.
Bratt was not done yet.
Bryan Rust hit the post just moments after Bratt’s first goal (and the goal horn briefly went off), following the Devils’ defender leaving his feet too early on the play. Rust skated around him and took a shot, but nailed the iron.
A little more than four minutes later, at 5:47 gone by, the Devils won a draw in the Penguins’ zone. Hamilton shot from the point and the rebound came to Hischier. Hischier was stopped by Jarry as well. After the puck pinballed around the zone, it eventually came to Bratt in the slot, who had time to shoot, calmy picked his spot and scored – officially unassisted – to make it 2-0 Devils.
The Devils would round out the first period by making it 3-0 at 6:44 gone by.
Yegor Sharangovich extended his point scoring streak to five games when a clearing attempt by the Penguins came around the boards to PK Subban at the far point in the Pens’ zone.
Subban looked to shoot, but instead passed to Sharangovich down low. With very little space, Sharangovich roofed a shot above Jarry to make it 3-0.
The Devils had come out rolling, finally giving Daws some run support to get himself on his way.
Pittsburgh coach Mike Sullivan used their timeout immediately after Sharangovich’s goal to settle his team down. The Devils had scored on three of their first nine shots in the game and the Pens were rattled clearly.
But Daws, as mentioned, was locked in. He made a big right pad save, moving left to right in the crease to make a good save in the middle of the first period and he would come up big late in the first as well.
This was third time this season that the Devils had scored three goals in the first period. They did so on December 31, 2021 (against the Edmonton Oilers) and on January 31, 2022 at the Toronto Maple Leafs.
The second period started with the Devils up by three. Daws kicked the frame off by stopping Marino big in close.
At the 9:24 gone by mark of the second, the Devils would score again. The Devils got the puck into the Pittsburgh zone and Pens’ defenseman Marcus Pettersson recovered it and tried to reverse around the boards as the Devils began a heavy forecheck.
Jack Hughes came in behind him and Pettersson ended up turning the puck over to Hughes on a bobble. Hughes made a nice spin around pass to center it to Dawson Mercer on the doorstep.
He scored on the Devils’ first shot of the second period to make it 4-0.
As good as things were going for the Devils, there was still that reminder that they were playing the high-flying Pittsburgh Penguins.
That reminder came in the middle of the second period when the Pens came on strongly.
At 10:18 gone by, the Devils were put on the penalty kill when Nathan Bastian went off for holding Dominik Simon.
With Pittsburgh on the power play, their superstars took over.
Evgeni Malkin grabbed the puck out of the Pens zone and skated it into the Devils end. There he played give and go with Crosby. Malkin gave it to Crosby along the left-wing boards and went to the middle of the ice. He got the puck back and scored a power play goal to make it 4-1 Devils.
And just like that, it would have been possible for the Pens to get back into things and change the momentum of the game.
But the Devils weathered the storm and, eventually, Pittsburgh’s Brock McGinn was assessed a high-sticking penalty against Ryan Graves at 12:59.
With the Devils on the man advantage, they won an offensive zone draw with Hischier getting it back to Hughes at the point. He played catch with Damon Severson, who got the puck back and blasted a shot by Jarry at 13:37 to make it 5-1 on the power play.
It was after this goal that Jarry was pulled by Sullivan in favor of DeSmith. The Devils were beginning to pour it on.
Malkin had another chance to get the Penguins into things when he hit the post late in the second period. Daws would then make a big save on the Pens (who were on the power play) as time ticked down in the second).
The third period saw things get a little crazy penalty-wise for the Pens.
It actually began with New Jersey’s Severson taking a tripping penalty against Kasperi Kapanen at 6:41 gone by.
Pittsburgh was on the power play, but only for about 50 seconds when Crosby was called for cross checking Graves. That evened things out at 4-on-4 for almost a minute until the Devils would go on the power play.
Then, at 8:17 gone, Jeff Carter laid a vicious-looking high hit on Mercer. He was officially given a double minor for high sticking at 8:17. Mercer was okay and it would now be 4-on-3 for about 24 seconds followed by 43 seconds of 5-on-3 depending on how things would shake down.
As it turned out, Hischier would score at the 9:30 mark (just as Crosby’s penalty was ending, but before the first two-minutes of Carter’s penalty was up, so the Devils would still have another two minutes of power play time after).
The goal came when Bratt wound the puck around the boards in the Pittsburgh zone to Hughes. Hughes made a quick pass out of the far corner to Hischier, who was in the middle of the ice. Hischier scored to make it 6-1, which would be our final.
Daws would make one more big glove save on Evan Rodrigues (who was shooting from the slot) with less than a minute to go in the game. This was symbolic as Daws put the capper on a very good game from him.
The Devils had the two points in a place that that was hard to come by for, not just them, but for most visiting team.
Hischier ended the game with a goal and two assists for three points, Bratt had two goals and an assist for three points, while Hughes quietly had three assists for three points as well.
The Devils were outshot 38 to 36 by Pittsburgh. New Jersey also won 47-percent of the game’s faceoffs (with Hischier leading Devils centers with a 71-percent personal winning percentage).
The Devils had ten team penalty minutes while the Penguins had 12. Pittsburgh had 23 hits to the Devils’ 21. Blocked shots were led by the Devils by one with 13 to Pittsburgh’s 12. Team giveaways saw the Devils with 11 and the Pens with seven.
Severson led all Devils skaters in time on ice with 22:10 logged (which 3:07 on the power play and 3:59 on the penalty kill). Jonas Siegenthaler led Devils defensemen in shorthanded time with 5:06 out of his 21:55 of total time on ice.
For the forwards, Hischier led in total time with 17:19 (including 3:22 on the power play and 1:57 on the PK). Hughes led in PP time with 3:59 out of his total of 16:43 logged. Jimmy Vesey had 3:46 of shorthanded time (out of his 14:40 of total TOI). Michael McLeod also had 3:46 of shorthanded time out of his 16:28 of total time – he also logged 24 seconds of power play time.
Hamilton led with five shots on goal in his return to the team. He and Graves tied for most hits with four each. SIegenthaler led in blocks with four. Hughes led in personal giveaways with two while Vesey led in personal takeaways with two.
Next up, the Devils will finish off their back-to-back by traveling to Chicago to take on the Blackhawks at 8:30 PM.
The Blackhawks, obviously, have had a bad year both on and off the ice, to say the least. We will see how the Devils will follow up tonight’s big win in Pittsburgh when they head to the Windy City complete their season series with the Hawks.
We will have coverage for you here immediately following the game. Until then, have a good Friday everyone.