The Devils celebrated 90’s Night at Prudential Center tonight, with everything from music and movie clips from the decade shown on the video board to none other than David Puddy himself, actor Patrick Warburton, showing up to drop the ceremonial faceoff puck.
But aside from all of that hoopla, they were also trying to win their third straight game and sweep the season series from the Pittsburgh Penguins. On those fronts, they failed, losing 4-3 in what was a hard fought loss for New Jersey.
In a nice little bit of coincidence, one of the few Devils alive for the entire decade of the 1990’s, Travis Zajac, was celebrating a milestone tonight. He was playing in his 900th NHL contest (all with the Devils), which puts him at sixth on the Devils’ all-time games played list. One stat that the MSG broadcast mentioned that I thought was really appropriate as regards Travis, he has won 7,860 faceoffs since his rookie year of 2006-07, the most on the Devils in that span. A testament not only to his longevity, but also to his abilty to excel in the faceoff circle. Congratulations to Travis on this great milestone.
Roster-wise, the Devils got Blake Coleman back off of injured reserve. Nick Lappin was sent back to Binghamton to make room on the roster for him. Coleman played primarily on a the third line, centering Kenny Agostino and Joey Anderson. Pavel Zacha missed his second straight game as he was a scratch today and is day-to-day. Steven Santini and Kurtis Gabriel were the healthy scratches.
In goal, the Devils went back to Keith Kinkaid. This was partly because Cory Schneider had played in the parts of the last three games and because Kinkaid had seemingly had Pittsburgh’s number this season. He made 24 saves on 28 shots against for an .857 save percentage. Facing him was Matt Murray, who stopped 33 of 36 shots for a .917 save percentage and was just better tonight than Kinkaid was.
The special teams are something that the Devils needed to be aware of against the Penguins. Their power play needs no introduction and they went 1-for-2 on the night with two shots. They also had three shorthanded shots. The Devils were 0-for-2 with three shots on the power play.
The Devils got on the board to start when the Devils won a faceoff deep in the Pittsburgh zone 2:14 into the game. The puck came back to Mirco Mueller who gave the puck to Marcus Johansson, who then immediately found a nice seam to Jesper Bratt. Bratt then fired from a weird angle and beat Murray to make it 1-0 Devils. Both Mueller (two assists), Johansson (a goal and an assist) and Bratt (a goal and an assist) had a multi-point game. For Mueller, this was his first multi-point game as a Devil.
Then some controversy, as Zach Aston-Reese, a Staten Island kid who played youth hockey for the New Jersey Rockets, scored at 6:49. This goal occurred a minute after the Pens had six men on the ice. The too many men penalty was nearly called too, until the officials conferenced and decided not to call it. Devils’ coach John Hynes mentioned in his post game presser on MSG that he received an explanation for the referees, but did not fully understand it. He said that these things happen in the course of a game. Aston-Reese got assists on the goal from Sidney Crosby and Brian Dumoulin and the score was now tied at one.
Johansson would put the Devils back on top at 12:17 of the first when he stole the puck from Phil Kessel at the Devils blue line and was off ot the races. He came up the right wing boards and cut in tight, backhanding it between Murray’s glove and his near post. It was a pretty goal and one that made it 2-1 Devils.
But Pittsburgh would tie things up before the first intermission on the power play. It came at 18:24 while Brett Seney was serving a tripping penalty and came off of the stick of newly-acquired Nick Bjugstad. He took a pass from Marcus Pettersson at the top of the near faceoff circle and fired it over Kinkaid’s shoulder. Dominik Simon had the secondary assist on the goal. The game was tied up at two apiece as we were headed for the first intermission.
The second period was where things began to fall apart for the Devils. At 10:45, the Penguins took the 3-2 lead when Jake Guentzel came up the left wing wall and centered a pass to Bryan Rust. Rust’s shot trickled by Kinkaid to give the Pens the one goal advantage.
Six minutes and about 16 seconds later, the Pens put the hammer down when, following a scramble in front where Kinkaid made a few nice saves, Evgeni Malkin got the puck back to Chad Ruhwedel at the point. He fired a puck that fluttered by Kinkaid. Toronto checked the goal to make sure it was not tipped in front by a high stick, but Ruhwedel’s shot had cleanly beat Kinkaid. That goal made it 4-2 Penguins.
The Devils would get some hope when Miles Wood drove up the left wing at 15:10, using a power move to slide the puck by Murray to make it 4-3. Damon Severson and Zajac had the assists on the goal. The Devils seemed to be poised for another comeback, until Blake Coleman was called for tripping Dumoulin at the 17:09 mark of the third. If the Devils killed this off, which they did, then that would leave them with about 51 seconds with which to work with to get things tied. They pulled Kinkaid with a little over 30 seconds to go, but to no avail. The Penguins hung on for the 4-3 win.
As Steve Cangialosi of MSG stated, 2009-10 remains the last time the Devils have swept a season series from Pittsburgh, when they went 6-0-0 against the Pens.
The Devils ended up out shooting the Penguins 36-28 and won 56-percent of the game’s faceoffs. They also out hit the Pens, 23-15 and had more blocked shots at 11 to Pittsburgh’s eight. Tellingly, the Devils had ten more giveaways than the Pens at 13-3.
Individually, Marcus Johansson had a great game, leading the Devils in shots on goal with eight and blocks with four, hits were led by Coleman with five. Kevin Rooney led in takeaways with three. Just for the record, Travis Zajac won 60-percent of the faceoffs he took on the night. Time on ice was led by Severson with 22:46 (including 2:20 on the power play and 1:15 shorthanded). Zajac led the forwards with 21:47 (2:02 on the PP and 1:59 killing penalties).
Next up, the Devils will host the last place Ottawa Senators on Thursday in a battle of two of the NHL’s “no so best.” Will Matt Duchene still be a Senator by Thursday? We will find out. I will be attending this game live, so my post will be up a little bit later than usual. In the meantime, please feel free to leave a comment below.