On either side of the Christmas break, the Devils had the Pittsburgh Penguins. They lost in Pittsburgh to go into the break and then they had the Pens at the Prudential Center coming out. The odds were in New Jersey’s favor on paper – the Devils were 7-1-1 in their last nine versus Pittsburgh in Newark since the 2012-13 season. But the games are played on ice, not paper. The Penguins won this one too, 5-2.
The Devils made some roster changes, recalling Yohann Auvitu from Albany of the AHL, while sending down Luke Gazdic and Seth Helgeson. Auvitu was in New Jersey, but did not suit up tonight. He joined Sergey Kalinin as a healthy scratch. Jacob Josefson is still out with his concussion, although he did participate in the morning skate, he is not yet cleared to play. Scratches for Pittsburgh were Trevor Daley, Tom Kuhnhackl and Olli Maatta.
Back in the lineup for New Jersey were Devante Smith-Pelly and Kyle Quincey. Miles Wood would get to play on the top line with Taylor Hall slotting down to the second line to make room for him at left wing.
For Pittsburgh, the big news coming out of their camp was coach Mike Sullivan signing a three-year contract extension a few days ago.
Starting netminders saw Cory Schneider go for the Devils. He made 24 saves on 28 shots. At the other end, Pittsburgh went back to Marc-Andre Fleury. He made 21 saves on 23 Devils shots. Fleury was particularly sharp tonight, making big saves when he had to to keep the Pens in the game or to preserve the lead.
And the Pens are playing for him. They came out flying, with Patric Hornqvist hitting the post early, giving the Penguins a nice scoring opportunity just moments into the game. But the Devils were the ones who struck first.
Hall stole the puck in the neutral zone, deking around Penguins’ defenseman Chad Ruhwedel and giving to PA Parenteau. Parenteau buried the puck behind Fleury to make it 1-0 Devils.
But the Devils let the Penguins back in. Fleury made a nice glove save on Nick Lappin right after the goal and then, at 5:55 of the first, Kyle Palmieri took a cross checking penalty on what was a sure scoring chance for Scott Wilson. Wilson was right in front of Cory’s crease and would have had a clear chance if Palmieri had not taken the penalty.
Unfortunately, that was only half of the battle. They still had to kill of the penalty. And they could not. Evgeni Malkin scored his 15th from Sidney Crosby and Phil Kessel. The Devils immediately used their coach’s challenge to ask about goalie interference. Hornqvist was in his crease, but the replay showed that Smith-Pelly had pushed him into Schneider, and so the call on the ice (which was a goal) stood. The game was now tied at one. That goal was Malkin’s 800th career NHL point.
The Devils would retake the lead heading into the second period when a Marc-Andre Fleury tripping penalty put them on the power play at 8:02. New Jersey would capitalize on this one; Hall gave to Travis Zajac in the slot, who passed up to Palmieri at the top of the far faceoff circle. He fired and the rebound came out to Adam Henrique at the top of the near circle and he buried it into an open net. The Devils now led again, 2-1. The power plays went 1-for-7 for the Devils and 1-for-3 for the Penguins.
Now ends the good news for the New Jersey Devils. From here on out, it was all Penguins.
Sidney Crosby has not gone back-to-back games without a point since February of 2016 (about ten months). He made sure that that trend continued with the assist on Malkin’s goal and continued it with his own. Crosby scored his 25th of the year from Conor Sheary (who made a nice move around Henrique to set up the goal) at 10:56 of the second period. Pittsburgh had tied things up.
Then, an ugly problem for the Devils reared its head again. They gave up the go ahead goal with five seconds left in the period. You never want to give up a goal in the first or last minute of a period. The Devils have done it eleven times this season. And this one was a backbreaker.
It came off the stick of Justin Schultz, who got assists from Malkin and Crosby (multi point nights for both of them). The Pens now led 3-2 heading into the third period. As we touched on in their last meeting, the Penguins are 51-0 in their last 51 games where they have led after two periods.
Just 3:13 into the third, Pittsburgh doubled up the Devils when Carl Hagelin scored on a slap shot in close on a breakaway, beating Cory short side, Ruhwedel had the lone assist on the goal. It was 4-2 Pittsburgh.
Immediately after the Hagelin goal, Fleury would make a huge save on Henrique, batting the puck out of midair and clearing away a sure goal for the Devils.
The Devils had a chance late when, at 14:02, Ian Cole’s stick clipped Taylor Hall and drew blood. The Devils would have a four minute power play with the double minor on Cole. New Jersey would basically be ending the game on a power play. They would not score.
They would pull Schneider late, but to no avail. The Penguins’ Bryan Rust added an empty netter from Nick Bonino and Hagelin at 18:42 of the third.
With that win, the Penguins now join the Chicago Blackhawks as the only teams in the NHL with two goalies with ten-plus wins each this season.
The Devils will now be seeing a lot of the Metropolitan Division, which would be good for them should they get on a roll and can begin gaining ground. However, should they continue on their losing ways, the road will be very difficult for them. Twenty-three of their next 48 games come against Metro Division foes.
Next up, the Devils begin a home-and-home with the Washington Capitals. They travel down to the Verizon Center for the first time this season on Thursday. That game is on NBCSN. They then return home on New Year’s Eve to take on the Caps at home. Will the Devils win another game in the 2016 calendar year? We will find out in the next three days.