Scott Wedgewood gained his first NHL victory in his very first NHL start this past Sunday. With that victory, he got texts from Martin Brodeur (Wedgewood was the first Devils goaltender to pick up a win in his NHL debut since Marty did it way back in 1992) and the actor Patrick Warburton (whose image appears on his mask in the guise of Seinfeld character David Puddy – AKA “the Facepainter”). But when he was named the starter for tonight’s game at the Consol Energy Center in Pittsburgh to take on the Penguins, many wondered what he would do for an encore.
Simple: hold one of the NHL’s best offensive teams to no goals while stopping 39 Penguins’ shots. He would notch his first NHL shutout in just his second start in the big leagues.
All of this came on the heels of some roster shuffling due to injuries. For starters, Michael Cammalleri, it was announced, would not play again this year. He has been out for the majority of the second half of the season with an injury to his right hand. It was clarified by the Devils that he would not likely need surgery, however.
In addition to this, forward Blake Pietila was called up from Albany to make his NHL debut due to the injury on Sunday to Tyler Kennedy. The former Michigan Tech Husky wore number 56 and played center.
In some good news on the injury front for New Jersey, Cory Schneider practiced on Tuesday, so he is on the mend and John Moore, who was a game-time decision, did play.
Facing Wedgewood, who ended up being named the game’s second star at the end of the night, was the Penguins’ Marc-Andre Fleury who made 21 stops on 24 Devils shots.
The Devils wasted no time getting on the board. Just 26 seconds into the first period, Travis Zajac sprung Kyle Palmieri on a breakaway with a nice bank pass off the near boards. Palmieri skated in on Fleury, shooting to his glove side. The puck just squeaked through his legs and into the net. The Devils had the early 1-0 lead. Reid Boucher had the secondary assist.
The Devils would nearly double the lead a few minutes later when Palmieri and Sergey Kalinin were stopped on a 2-on-1 shorthanded (Stephen Gionta had been called for slashing, putting the Pens on the power play). Fleury stopped that, however.
Midway through the first, Phil Kessel of the Penguins shot wide on an open net. The play was doubly dangerous for the Devils because the puck could have ricocheted in off of several bodies in front of the net. The Devils dodged a bullet and would actually increase their lead moments later.
At 13:00, Beau Bennett was called for holding David Warsofsky. With the Devils on the power play now, Zajac won a faceoff in the Penguins’ zone back to Damon Severson at the right point. Severson slid the puck over to Boucher along the half wall. He looked, gave it back to Severson, who found Palmieri at the top of the near faceoff circle. He let loose a one-timer, beating Fleury and it was 2-0 Devils just like that. Kyle Palmieri had two goals and the Devils had a two goal lead after notching one with the man advantage.
The second period saw an interesting sequence of events. After John Moore went to the penalty box for high-sticking Matt Cullen, the Devils were killing off a penalty. At the tail end of the PK, Adam Henrique broke free on a shorthanded breakaway just as the penalty to Moore was expiring. He was hauled down by Justin Schultz, who was whistled for hooking, putting the Devils on the power play. They would not score on the ensuing power play, however.
The Devils would triple up the Penguins midway through the third period. At 9:57, Devante Smith-Pelly would give the puck in the Devils’ zone to Damon Severson, who headmanned it to Henrique. Henrique quickly had a 2-on-1 with Joseph Blandisi. As they came in on Fleury, he elected not to pass and instead, sniped a laser of a shot above Fleury’s glove and just below the crossbar, making it 3-0 Devils.
And that is where the game would end. The Devils had blanked Sidney Crosby and one of the NHL’s most high-powered offenses. Granted, the Penguins were without the services of the injured Evgeni Malkin, but that does not take away from what the Devils did here. Pittsburgh has still been one of the hottest teams in the league of late and Wedgewood and the Devils were able to shut them down. Add to that that the game was at Consol Energy Center, a place the Devils have had a rough time at lately and this is a big step for the team.
Wedgewood had mentioned that he wanted to exhibit “poise and control” because he felt that his teammates would pick up on that and play more calmly in front of him. It worked and New Jersey got the victory.
Next up for the Devils comes another tough challenge in the form of the Washington Capitals in the second half of their back-to-back. The Caps have already clinched the Metropolitan Division title and a spot in the Stanley Cup Playoffs. The two teams will square off tomorrow night at Prudential Center. If the Devils go with Wedgewood again, does he have it in him to defeat yet another high-flying offensive team? Defeating Washington would go a long way in propelling their playoff hopes forward. It would also do a lot for the team’s morale going forward. We will find out exactly what the Devils have in store tomorrow night at The Rock.