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!

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