The Devils are reeling. There is no doubt about it. Losers of six of their last eight coming into today’s game against the Pittsburgh Penguins at Prudential Center, their playoff hopes were quickly fading into obscurity.
Things did not get much better for the team when it was revealed that Cory Schneider will be out at least two weeks with a grade 1 MCL sprain. He will be reevaluated after those two weeks. But in the meantime, it will be up to Keith Kinkaid and Yann Danis to give as much as they can for the Devils.
New Jersey would also have a chance to directly make up some ground on a team right ahead of them in the playoff race. By defeating Pittsburgh today, they would gain points on them and also erase one of the Penguins’ games-in-hand.
However, this was not to be. New Jersey fell 6-1 to the Pens in a very lopsided game that was only barely competitive at times.
Devante Smith-Pelly was playing in his first game at The Rock in front of his new home fans. He brought a three game goal-scoring streak into the game that was snapped. The Devils scratches for the night included Jacob Josefson, Schneider and David Warsofsky.
Getting the start in net for New Jersey was, of course, Keith Kinkaid. Kinkaid was making his third straight appearance (a start in Nashville, relief in Dallas and this start versus Pittsburgh). He made 24 saves on 30 shots in the loss. Making the start for the Pens was Matthew Murray, who blocked 17 of the Devils’ 18 shots in getting the win.
Things got off to a quick start when Jordin Tootoo and Tim Sestito dropped the gloves at 7:49. This came off of a faceoff and Tootoo was assessed the extra two minute instigator penalty to go along with the five minutes for fighting that both got. So Pittsburgh would go on the power play early and they would capitalize when Evgeni Malkin notched his 26th of the year from Sidney Crosby and Kris Letang. It was 1-0 and it would not stay that way for long.
Just a little over 30 seconds later, Matt Cullen scored unassisted to double up the Devils 2-0.
The Penguins would triple up the Devils early in the second period when Nick Bonino scored from Bryan Rust and Tom Kuhnhackl. Things looked really bad for the Devils at this point, down 3-0. But as Stan Fischler often says, 3-0 is the worst lead in hockey.
Sure enough, the Devils seemingly began to roll when Reid Boucher fed Kyle Palmieri on a 2-on-1 and Palmieri beat Murray to the stick side on a partial breakaway at 7:52. The Devils had cut down the lead to 3-1 on a beautiful goal from Palmieri and looked to be back into it.
Things tipped even more in the Devils’ favor when Malkin was called for high-sticking Joseph Blandisi at 11:25, putting the Devils a man up. Then, at 12:04, Olli Maatta was whistled for high-sticking Adam Henrique to put the Devils up 5-on-3. With the two man advantage, surely the Devils could climb back into the game. It would not happen. Pittsburgh killed the two-man advantage off and then, three minutes later, Malkin scored his second of the game from Phil Kessel to make it 4-1.
Things were spiraling out of control and would only get worse in the third period. The Devils played very undisciplined, taking three penalties in the frame (although they would kill all of the ensuing power plays off). But even worse, they gave up two more goals. First, at 6:49, Rust beat Kinkaid with assists from Justin Schultz and Bonino to make it 5-1.
Then, to top things off, at 16:05, Scott Wilson scored from Crosby and Rust (who had three points – a goal and two assists – on the night). Final score: 6-1, Pittsburgh.
So where do the Devils go from here? Well, literally, they go to California for the next week. They visit Peter DeBoer and the Sharks in San Jose on Thursday, Los Angeles on Saturday and Anaheim on Monday. Maybe a cross-country flight can help the team to bond and rebuild a shattered confidence. Although none of the California teams are exactly pushovers, a big upset could go a long way in helping the Devils right things.
It is getting to the point where the Devils are no longer playing for a playoff spot, but rather for pride and each other. Hopefully, this team has a lot of pride left as they lean on each other on this road trip.