The Pittsburgh Penguins are always a tough team to play. They are the back-to-back Stanley Cup champs, who only got better at the trading deadline. But beating them at their home rink, PPG Paints Arena, has been an even more daunting task of late. The Pens, coming into this game against the Devils had won eleven straight home games.
Faced with that on their plate, what did the Devils do? They won 3-2 as they put more separation between themselves and the teams below them in the standings and move within two points of Pittsburgh for third place in the Metro Division.
First, I wanted to get some details about Patrik Elias night that I forgot about. First was Elias’ entrance through the crowd that really hammered home that he was one of us. He was a real fan favorite and that and taking the plastic green hat from the fan who offered it, putting it on and then throwing it back to the fans was a nice touch.
Another point I missed was that the Devils were playing the Islanders because that was the team that Patty played his most games and had his most points against. Also, the Devils wearing the white road jerseys for a change was a nice touch.
And finally, the Devils kept their winning streak on jersey retirement nights intact. They defeated the Hurricanes on Stevens Night, the Bruins on Daneyko Night, the Stars on Niedermayer Night, the Oilers on Brodeur Night and Saturday, they came from behind to defeat the Isles on Elias Night.
With that out of the way, we move on to tonight’s game versus the Penguins. The task of beating the Pens only got bigger as Derick Brassard was making his debut for Pittsburgh following his blockbuster three-way trade from Ottawa also involving Vegas. The Devils’ newest addition, Patrick Maroon, did not play tonight, as he traveled all night from San Jose (where the Oilers were playing tonight) to Pittsburgh via Atlanta. Maroon did practice with the team today, but did not play due to travel fatigue. He will make his Devils debut at Florida on Thursday.
Along with Maroon, Jimmy Hayes and Mirco Mueller were the scratches for New Jersey. Michael Grabner was playing in his second game as a Devil and was on a line with Travis Zajac and Stefan Noesen (who was playing in his 100th NHL contest tonight – congrats to him).
With 20 games remaining in the 2017-18 season including tonight, the Devils knew it was time to really make that final push for the playoffs and can see the light at the end of the tunnel.
Goaltending-wise, there is some news on the Cory Schneider front. Cory played a game for Binghamton at the Belleville Senators tonight in a conditioning stint. His return is imminent (he will rejoin the team in Florida) according to the MSG broadcasters, with Bryce Salvador in particular saying that an AHL stint will help him out. If he had had something happen to him against the Penguins tonight, things could have gotten disastrous. In the AHL, he can have a bad night if he needs to as he gets in game shape. For the record, he won that game 4-1.
In his place, Keith Kinkaid made another start – as he adds to his career highs in starts and wins – played brilliantly at times tonight. He stopped 36 of 38 shots on goal. For the Penguins, Casey DeSmith got the start as Matt Murray got hit in the head with a puck at practice and is suffering from concussion symptoms. The undrafted DeSmith made 35 saves on 38 Devils shots.
One of the big stories coming out of this game was the Devils’ special teams. The Pens have the top ranked power play in the NHL. But it was the Devils who came out on top in that facet of the game. New Jersey was 1-for-1 with the man advantage with two shots on net while Pittsburgh was 0-for-2 with the Devils limiting them to a single shot. The Devils power play and penalty kill came up huge for the team tonight.
However, it was the Pens who got on the board first in what seemed like business as usual. Sidney Crosby scored at 8:17 of the first period from Brian Dumoulin and Jake Guentzel. On this play, the puck got through Kinkaid’s legs, squirting over to Crosby, who simply tapped the puck into the empty side of the net to make it 1-0. Following the goal (and some technical difficulties with the monitors on the Devils’ bench), coach John Hynes challenged for goalie interference, saying that Crosby’s leg as he was swooping across the crease impeded Kinkaid’s ability to make the save. Replays showed otherwise and the goal stood. The Devils lost their timeout with the failed coach’s challenge.
Immediately following the Pittsburgh goal, the Devils got right to work. Michael Grabner hit the post on a shot right after, but it was not until the 12:19 mark that Kyle Palmieri continued his hot streak and tied the game. Damon Severson and Taylor Hall had the assists. Hall dropped to Severson at the Devils’ blueline and Severson and Palmieri began to criss-cross up ice. Severson left for Palmieri at the Penguins blueline and he skated in up the left wing boards, shooting from the top of the faceoff circle and beating DeSmith stick side to tie the game up at one all.
With that assist, Hall continued his point scoring streak – now to 22 games. That is a season high in the NHL for this season.
The game was tied up at one going into the first intermission, but things looked a little bleak for the Devils. Ben Lovejoy took a hooking penalty at 19:38, giving Pittsburgh an almost full power play on fresh ice to begin the second period. But as noted above, the Devils were able to stifle the Pens’ power play and nothing came of it.
Instead, Hall would add to his point total by scoring the go ahead goal for the Devils to make the score 2-1. This one came on the power play and was set up by Severson and Travis Zajac. It happened when, at the 4:25 mark of the second, Zajac passed to Severson in the slot. The defenseman shot and hit the crossbar with the puck caroming to Hall, who was just under the goal line. He shot and beat DeSmith to give the Devils the lead. It was a weird one, but the Devils would take it.
Severson would joke with Deb Placey on the MSG postgame show that he was making a “post pass” since Hall was calling for the pass and Severson elected to shoot.
The Devils lead would last until the 17:02 mark of the second period when Matt Hunwick scored for Pittsburgh to tie things up at two. Guentzel had the lone assist on that goal.
The score was tied going into the second intermission as it was in the first, but the resilient Devils were not done. At the 5:01 mark of the third period, Stefan Noesen put the Devils up 3-2 on a goal with assists to Andy Greene and Zajac. It came when Noesen passed from behind the net to Zajac in the slot. DeSmith made the save and pushed the puck to the near corner. The puck came to Greene at the wall and he fired from that angle. Noesen was able to get a stick on it as he was cycling by, tipping the puck by DeSmith, who was not able to get across his crease and get set in time to make the save. The Devils had the lead back and would not relinquish this one.
DeSmith was pulled with about 1:30 left in the game. But Hynes was dogged in getting the Zajac line matched up against the Evgeni Malkin line and that continued late in the game. With a few blocked shots and key saves by Kinkaid, the Devils withstood the final minute and a half and got out of Pittsburgh with the victory. A huge two points in division for the Devils.
Stats-wise, Sami Vatanen led in ice time with 27:14 (including 1:06 on the power play and 2:13 on the PK). Palmieri and Pavel Zacha led in shots on goal with five each. Nico Hischier was the most physcial player with four hits. Blake Coleman and Greene each had four blocks and Noesen had two takeaways. Hall, Zajac and Severson each had two points on the night and the Devils won 43-percent of the game’s faceoffs. Hall was named the game’s first star for his efforst while Severson was the second star. Crosby earned third star honors.
It was a big win, but the Devils work is not done. Thursday they are in Sunrise to take on the Florida Panthers – a team that has also been pretty hot of late. It will be the Devils’ only trip to South Florida this season and will mark Patrick Maroon’s Devils debut. We will see you then.
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