Coming off of their big emotional win over the Flyers last night, the Devils wanted to build on it and pick up a victory at the PPG Paints Arena against the Stanley Cup champions.
Unfortunately for the Devils, while they were busy beating Philadelphia last night, the Penguins were taking it on the chin against the Columbus Blue Jackets in Ohio, 7-1. The Penguins were angry at themselves and out for revenge. The Devils just happened to be in the way.
The Devils lost 4-1. The Penguins were never behind in the game and thus, unlike New Jersey’s last visit to the Steel City, no last second Sidney Crosby heroics were necessary.
Last night’s Pittsburgh loss was their first loss in regulation in the month of December (11 games). The Penguins have also not lost a game in regulation at home since November 26. The Pens also extended their streak of winning after leading after two periods to 12 games this year. In fact, they have not lost a game after leading after two in two years; an amazing streak that the Devils could not overcome tonight.
The lineup for the Devils was largely the same as last night. Nick Lappin, Kyle Quincey and Devante Smith-Pelly were the scratches. Scratched for the Penguins were Trevor Daley, Tom Kuhnhackl and Derrick Pouliot.
In goal, the matchup saw Marc-Andre Fleury start for Pittsburgh. He had actually come in in relief for Matt Murray last night in Columbus. He made 23 saves on 24 Devils shots. Cory Schneider faced him down the rink, coming off of his shutout last night against the Flyers. He made 35 saves on 39 Penguins shots. He had already faced more shots by the second period tonight than he faced all of last night against Philly.
The Pens got the scoring started on the power play. Adam Henrique was whistled for hooking Evgeni Malkin at 9:36 of the first period and Crosby would capitalize. That goal was initially called no goal on the ice, seemingly hitting the crossbar. But replays showed that the puck deflected off of Andy Greene’s leg and went in under the crossbar. The call was reversed and it was a good goal, Pittsburgh had the 1-0 lead. Justin Schultz and Phil Kessel had the assists. That was Crosby’s league-leading 24th goal of the year.
Pittsburgh looked to double up the Devils early in the second period with a 2-on-1 that Jon Merrill played well and Cory made the save on Crosby.
But moments later, they would double up the score when Eric Fehr scored unassisted at 4:13. He was able to put a rebound in after New Jersey failed to clear the crease.
The Devils would get a chance at a 5-on-3 power play when Bryan Rust went off for interference at 7:03 of the second and then Ian Cole was called for tripping at 8:23. The Devils failed to score on the 5-on-3 that they had and then, during the 5-on-4 power play, PA Parenteau took an interference call to even things up and then give Pittsburgh power play time. Overall, with the man advantage, the Devils went 0-for-2 while the Penguins were 1-for-2. With the Crosby goal being their lone marker on the power play.
Kyle Palmieri pulled the Devils back into it, making it 2-1 at 13:24 when Taylor Hall gained the zone, curling around and giving to John Moore in the slot. He fired and Palmieri scooped up the rebound and shoveled it in. The score was now 2-1.
The Devils had a chance to tie things up when former Penguin Beau Bennett picked off a pass in the Devils’ zone and gave it to Pavel Zacha, who was off on a 2-on-1 with Greene. Greene was in alone but hit the post off of Fleury’s toe on the play. A missed opportunity for the Devils on that play that is for sure.
Shades of the night before when, at 17:53, Miles Wood came to the aid of Bennett near the crease. Wood would end up dropping the gloves with Steve Oleksy in what was a very close fight. Wood handled himself well against the more experienced Oleksy.
But a few minutes later, the Devils made a cardinal sin. You never want to give up a goal in the opening or closing minutes of a period and, at 19:21, Chad Ruhwedel, the San Diego, California native, scored his first NHL goal. He got assists from Chris Kunitz and Evgeni Malkin. This was kind of a seeing eye shot right after Taylor Hall nearly had a breakaway that was broken up by Fleury.
The Pens would add a fourth one in the third period when Patric Hornqvist scored from Malkin at 12:05. The final score was 4-1.
And with that, the Devils were dropped below NHL .500 for the first time this season, at 13-14-7.
Next up for the Devils: the Christmas break. They will likely use the next three days to relax and spend time with family. As Cory Schneider said in the postgame show on MSG, he will likely not think about hockey during the break to get his mind clear.
Out of the break, the Devils will face these very same Pittsburgh Penguins again, this time at Prudential Center. So, right off the bat, they will get their chance for revenge on the defending Stanley Cup champs. We will see how things play out.
Happy holidays to everyone reading. Here’s wishing you a great holiday and a very happy new year!