Johnsson Scores Twice, Bratt Converts Penalty Shot as Devils Defeat Pens

The Devils finally played their first road game of the season, following a three-day layoff (the loss on Tuesday versus Calgary at home) and traveled to Western Pennsylvania to take on the Pittsburgh Penguins. The Devils won the game, 4-2 and improved to 4-2-0 on the season. It was a big Metro Division matchup and victory for the Devils.

To begin with, a roster move as the Devils sent goaltender Nico Daws back down to Utica of the American League on Thursday, October 28.

The reason for this was that Jonathan Bernier was back from his lower body injury, getting the start tonight. Mackenzie Blackwood remains out, recovering from heel surgery. He could be back in as soon as a week. Blackwood did travel with the team to Pittsburgh.

Mason Geertsen and Christian Jaros were the Devils’ healthy scratches.

For the Penguins, a team that has been playing well despite their superstars being out with injury, they got someone back. Sidney Crosby played his first game of the season tonight, after recovering from wrist surgery that he had back in September. He finally began his 17th season as a Pittsburgh Penguin, equaling Mario Lemieux’s record for seasons played with the franchise. They also got Jeff Carter back into the lineup. He was on COVID Protocol.

As for the Devils’ superstar center, we got an update on Jack Hughes yesterday. His dislocated left shoulder suffered in the Seattle Kraken game back in early October, is stable following his one-week evaluation. The Devils’ head orthopedic surgeon and Chief Medical Officer Dr. Jonathan L. Glashow had a meeting with Hughes. According to the press release put out by the team, Jack “is on course with his rehabilitation program” and will be re-evaluated in five weeks. They said that adjustments will be made accordingly.

In goal, Bernier got the nod for the Devils in his return. He improved to a personal 3-0-0 record with this win and had 33 saves on 35 Pittsburgh shots for a .943 save percentage. Bernier turned aside all eight Penguins’ power play shots and stopped 25-of-27 at even strength.

Pittsburgh went with Tristan Jarry, who stopped 36-of-40 total Devils shots. The Devils did not register a power play shot, curiously, but did have six shorthanded shots, of which Jarry got five. He ended up with a .900 save percentage and was equal to 31 of 34 shots at even strength.

The Penguins ended 0-for-5 on the power play as the Devils penalty kill played very well. The Devils were 0-for-2 with no shots on the man advantage.

Of note, because I happen to notice stuff like this, the Devils did not have their Prudential sponsorship logo on their road white helmets. Instead, they had the team logo stickers and a special sticker on the back for their Buy Black initiative. Later in the year, they will be featuring a Buy Black business’ logo as their sponsorship logo for a series of games.

This was game six of an eight game homestand for the Pens, following a loss in their previous game to the Calgary Flames.

Also of note is that the Penguins had a forward in their lineup tonight by the name of Drew O’Connor, a Chatham, New Jersey native who played high school hockey at Delbarton and college hockey at Dartmouth.

They seemed to be back on their horse too. At the 12:23 mark of the first, Pittsburgh took the lead when Danton Heinen scored. Zach Aston-Reese centered the puck to the slot and it pinballed off a few Devils’ skates before finally landing to Heinen in front. He scored to make it 1-0. Juuso Nikola had the secondary assist.

It would remain that way for the rest of the frame, until, with less than 30 seconds to go, at the 19:23 mark, Andreas Johnsson notched his first of the game to tie it at one. Jesper Bratt cut wide on the left side and it got swept off of his stick, but he was able to still guide it to Johnsson at the near faceoff circle. Johnsson had no shot, but saw Dawson Mercer in front, battling with Evan Rodrigues. He threw it towards Mercer and it ended up going in off of Rodrigues’ skate. Mercer celebrated initially as if the goal was his, and it seemed that he got a piece of the puck as it was being redirected in.

However, it did go in off of Rodrigues, so Johnsson got the credit for it. Dougie Hamilton had secondary assist on Johnsson’s second goal of the year.

That took us into the second period.

Things got a little frustrating for the Devils early on, as Jarry denied both Michael McLeod and then Tomas Tatar on breakaways early on in the new period.

However, the Devils would eventually breakthrough in a slightly different situation.

At the 17:36 mark, Tatar took a tripping penalty against Heinen, putting Pittsburgh on the power play.

At 17:57, Bernier made a big save, directing the puck towards the far corner in the Devils’ zone. Kasperi Kapanen tried to direct the puck to the point, but the pass had no steam and Jimmy Vesey jumped on it. The Penguins’ player at the point went down, trying to dive and sweep the puck back into the zone. Vesey skated around him and was off on a breakaway of his own. Jarry did not stop this one, as Vesey went backhand-forehand and scored. This gave the Devils a 2-1 lead.

It was the Devils’ first shorthanded goal of the season and came unassisted. New Jersey would end up killing the rest of the penalty as well.

That goal took us into the third period where things would turn for the Devils.

It did start with the Penguins tying things up at two.

Just 2:02 into the third, Brock McGinn scored when Teddy Blueger was going towards the end boards in the Devils’ zone and gathered the puck. As he was falling down, he made blind pass, behind-the-back pass to McGinn in the slot. McGlinn was all alone and beat Bernier one-on-one to make it 2-2. Aston-Reese had the secondary assist.

The Pens were back into things, but the game was about to get very interesting.

With exactly three minutes to go in regulation, Crosby pushed Bratt from behind and hauled him down on a scoring chance.

Bratt was awarded a penalty shot but seemed injured and went to the bench to catch a breather. He decided to take the shot and made a move to freeze Jarry. Jarry went down and Bratt went around him and put the puck in behind him. Bratt came into the game 0-for1 on penalty shots, so this was his first NHL penalty shot goal.

The goal would go down as the game-winner and made it 3-2 Devils.

The Devils would add one more at 18:17 as the Penguins were trying to pull Jarry for the extra attacker. Jarry never made it to the Pittsburgh bench as PK Subban jarred a puck loose at the Devils’ blue line. He poked it up to Johnsson, who skated around Jarry at the Pittsburgh blue line and put it into the empty net. That made it 4-2 Devils.

The Pens would pull Jarry for real with about a minute left in the game.

Then, with 40 seconds to go, the Devils were assessed a bench minor for too many men on the ice. The Devils would finish the game killing a penalty.

But they would hold on and got the two points over a division rival.

The Devils outshot Pittsburgh 40-35. They won 48-percent of the game’s faceoffs with Michael McLeod winning 59-percent of his draws to lead the Devils’ centers. The Devils finished with ten penalty minutes to the Penguins’ four. The Pens outhit the Devils 29 to 27 and narrowly blocked more shots at 14 to the Devils’ 13. The Devils had less giveaways at six to the Pens’ eight. Mercer had two giveaways to lead that category for New Jersey.

Ice time saw Ryan Graves lead the Devils with 24:31 (including 5:26 of PK time). Dougie Hamilton led the Devils’ defensemen in power play ice time with 2:16. Nico Hischier led the forwards in TOI with 17:17 total time (including 2:16 on the power play and 2:25 shorthanded). Bratt also played 2:16 on the power play and Vesey spent the most time killing penalties amongst the forwards with 4:36 logged on the PK.

Johnsson (two goals) and Bratt (a goal and an assist) led the Devils in points with two each. Vesey ended up leading everyone in total shots on goal with six – with Hamilton logging five. Hits were led by Freddie Gauthier with five. Blocks were led by Damon Severson and Graves with three each. Pavel Zacha and Marian Studenic both led in takeaways with two apiece.

Next up, the Devils return home tomorrow night for a Halloween afternoon tilt against the Columbus Blue Jackets. Puck drop for that game is 5 PM. I will be a little bit late in getting a report up as I will be spending time with family seeing my nephews trick or treating. I am recording the game and should have something up a bit later in the day.

Until then, stay safe if you are taking your kids out for trick or treating tomorrow and Happy Halloween!

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