Devils Dealt First Home Loss in Six

The Devils came into tonight having won five straight on Prudential Center ice. The Pittsburgh Penguins had lost eight of their last ten. Something had to give.

Unfortunately, it was the Devils who blinked. They lost 5-2 tonight to halt their home win streak at five.

Some important roster moves to get to first as Fredrik Claesson was out mending some aches and pains. In his place was the recently-recalled Matt Tennyson. The man who was traded to the Devils along with Claesson from Carolina, Janne Kuokkanen, had also been recalled recently. He was a game-time decision, but did play, slotting in for Michael McLeod up front.

Kuokkanen was making his Devils debut, but not his NHL debut. According to Hockey-Reference.com, he did play in 11 games over the 2017-18 and 2018-19 seasons with the Hurricanes.

Still, it was great to see a talented player who had been tearing up the AHL of late, get a shot with the big club. Kuokkanen had an even plus/minus rating, three hits and a turnover in 12:04 of ice time. He played 13 seconds on the power play. He skated primarily on the fourth line centered by Kevin Rooney with John Hayden on the other wing, although that did get shuffled as the game went along, of course.

In goal, Mackenzie Blackwood was back in net and made 28 stops on 32 shots against for an .875 save percentage. Going for Pittsburgh was Matt Murray who turned aside 20 of the 22 shots he faced for a .909 save percentage.

This was the first time the Devils had faced the Pens with Sidney Crosby in the Pittsburgh lineup. What kind of an impact would he have on the night’s proceedings?

It seemed none, although there was plenty of footage all night of Crosby assisting on Devils’ interim coach Alain Nasreddine’s only NHL goal. He scored in his hometown of Montreal when he was with the Pens and Crosby set him up.

The Penguins got out to a 1-0 lead 8:29 into the game when Evan Rodrigues scored. Jared McCann forced a turnover just outside the Devils’ zone and Rodrigues took it. He skated to the near half wall and stopped. He shot and the puck deflected off of Tennyson’s shinpad and went upstairs over Blackwood’s shoulder. This was officially Pittsburgh’s first shot of the game that they scored on.

The Devils had an answer, however, when Nikita Gusev scored at 12:46 gone by on the power play. Jack Johnson was called for a delay of game for clearing the puck over the glass. On the man advantage, PK Subban got the puck quickly to Pavel Zacha up ice. Zacha then gave to Gusev, who shot from the near faceoff circle. The shot trickled by Murray to tie the game.

On special teams, the Devils went 1-for-3 on the power play with four shots. Pittsburgh went 0-for-4 with seven shots as the Devils cooled off one of the league’s best power play units. Neither team registered a shorthanded shot.

The 1-1 tie took us into the first intermission. In the second period, Justin Schultz gave the Pens back the lead at 2-1 when Evgeni Malkin took a pass just inside the Devils’ blue line. He passed cross-ice to Schultz, who shot upstairs to beat Blackwood top shelf. Bryan Rust had the secondary assist. Malkin finished the game with three points, this assist and two goals in the third period.

The first of those came after Pittsburgh killed 1:42 of a 5-on-3. The Devils had their chances all night, including this opportunity, Jack Hughes coming out of the penalty box in the second period and hitting the post (although Murray did get a piece of the puck, directing it towards the post) and Rooney missing on a 2-on-1 with Kuokkonen in the third. On that last one, Murray also got a piece of the puck, directing it subtly over his crossbar.

Anyway, back to Malkin’s goal. It came 7:11 into the third when he came rushing up the right wing. He shot and Blackwood got a little of it, but it ended up trickling behind him and in. Kris Letang had the lone assist. That made it 3-1 Pens.

The Devils managed to get back into things when Miles Wood scored at the 10:24 mark. Nico HIschier got the puck up and over the Penguins’ defense and Wood took the pass in stride. He cut in on Murray, with Brian Dumoulin on his back. He snapped it by Murray to cut the Pittsburgh lead back to one at 3-2.

Malkin restored the two-goal lead when, at 13:18 gone by, he scored. The Pens were applying pressure in the New Jersey zone when an errant pass deflected off a Devils stick and right to Malkin in front. He wristed the puck by Blackwood to make it 4-2. That goal came unassisted.

The Devils pulled Blackwood with about 1:40 to play in regulation and Letang iced things when he scored unassisted into the empty net. That gave us our final of 5-2.

Pittsburgh outshot the Devils, 33-22 and won 61-percent of the game’s faceoffs. Travis Zajac had the highest percentage of faceoffs won for Devils’ centers at 62-percent.

The Devils outhit the Penguins, 26-18 and had more blocked shots at 18 to the Pens’ six. The Devils had a whopping 25 turnovers to Pittsburgh’s three, with Damon Severson racking up six of them. Not a good look there.

Subban led all New Jersey skaters in ice time with 27:10 total (2:49 on the power play and 3:25 shorthanded). Hischier led the forwards with 18:54 total (including 2:45 on the power play and 30 seconds killing penalties).

Shots on goal were led by Hischier with five. Hits by Rooney, Kyle Palmieri, Kuokkanen and Damon Severson with three each. Blocked shots by Severson and Dakota Mermis with five each. Takeaways were led by Hischier, Rooney, Zajac, Palmieri, Zacha and Mirco Mueller with one each.

Next up, the Devils remain home to take on the Carolina Hurricanes on Thursday. We will have coverage for you here for a matchup with a Metropolitan Division rival.

Two last notes before we wrap things up tonight.

First, congratulations to the Binghamton Devils’ Ryan Schmelzer, who was named the AHL’s Player of the Week for the period ending March 8, 2020.

The B-Devils have been extremely hot since around Christmas time and are in the mix of a playoff race in the AHL. Schmelzer had six points (two goals, four assists) in three games over the last week against the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins on Friday and Sunday and the Lehigh Valley Phantoms on Saturday, according to the news release put out by the Binghamton club.

He had two assists against Wilkes-Barre/Scranton in a 6-4 home win, a goal and an assist against Lehigh Valley in a 5-1 Devils win and an assist in a 3-0 win over the Penguins in Wilkes-Barre/Scranton.

Congrats to him again on this great honor and hopefully the B-Devils can clinch a playoff berth after a bit of a slow start to the season.

The second note is belated condolences to the friends and family of Henri “Pocket Rocket” Richard. He is an important part of hockey history as the player with the most Stanley Cup championships under his belt and an absolute legend in Montreal.

The brother of Maurice “Rocket” Richard, he will be truly missed throughout the NHL.

Again, sorry this tribute was posted so late, and condolences to his family, friends and fans.

Devils Lose to Sharks in OT

It was a long night for the Devils as they traveled west to San Jose and fell to the Sharks 3-2 in overtime at the SAP Center.

Firstly, add an assist to Nikita Gusev’s goal on Tuesday at Detroit. I neglected to mention that Mirco Mueller had the secondary assist on that tally. My mistake.

Second, regarding that game at the Red Wings, John Hayden was fined the maximum amount allowed by the Player’s Association under the collective bargaining agreement, $2,016.13. The amount was assessed based on his salary and the severity of the offense. The offense was for the cross-check to the face of Tyler Bertuzzi.

In roster news, Josh Jacobs was recalled from AHL Binghamton. He was a scratch today along with Will Butcher, who remains injured. The reason for the callup was because the team needed seven defensemen with the uncertainty of how long Butcher will be out.

Cory Schneider made the start for the Devils, making his first back-to-back appearance since October 12 and 14, 2019. This was also Schneider’s 300th start as a Devil, as per Steve Cangialosi of MSG Network. Congratulations to Cory on that milestone, as it moves him into second place all-time on the Devils’ list behind Martin Brodeur.

Cory stopped 27 of the 30 shots he saw from the Sharks for a .900 save percentage. Facing him for San Jose was Martin Jones, who stopped 22 of the 24 shots he saw for a .917 save percentage.

On special teams, the Devils went 0-for-4 with four shots. San Jose was 0-for-3 with five shots on goal. The Sharks also had a shorthanded shot, one on which they scored as we will see. It was a much more toned-down game than the Detroit game in terms of intensity as nothing got too out of hand.

The Sharks were in their alternate black uniforms for this late-night (at least here on the East Coast) tilt.

The Devils got on the board first, scoring 11:05 into the first period when Miles Wood cut in on the Sharks’ net and the puck was loose in front of Jones. Travis Zajac took a few whacks at the puck and, eventually, put it in. Joey Anderson had the secondary assist to help make it 1-0 Devils. This goal was Zajac’s first since January 12.

New Jersey doubled their lead 3:59 later when Gusev scored unassisted. The Devils came in on the forecheck and Pavel Zacha dug the puck out, helping to set up the goal. Gusev got it and skated to the front of the net. He waited with the puck all alone, waiting until he opened up Jones. He then scored five-hole to make it 2-0. Although Zacha did not get an assist, it was his forechecking that helped to create the goal, which was a thing of beauty from Gusev.

Later in the period, there was a 4-on-4 for about 1:53. During the 4-on-4, defenseman Dakota Mermis made a great play. San Jose’s Brent Burns had an entire half of the Devils net to shoot at and Mermis spun around as the Sharks cut in on the 2-on-1. He batted the shot by Burns out of the air and away from danger as he was doing so to stop a sure goal. A nice defensive play that saved the Devils’ bacon then.

But the Sharks would come roaring back in the second period. It began just 2:20 in when Mario Ferraro scored. It was on a delayed penalty against the Devils and the Sharks got the extra attacker on the ice. Noah Gregor and Evander Kane worked the puck to Ferraro at the point. He then shot through a couple of screens and beat Schneider clean to cut the Devils’ lead in half to 2-1.

The Sharks would tie things up at 15:58 gone while shorthanded. Kane had gone off for a hook on PK Subban to set up a Devils power play at 14:51. But about a minute into that penalty kill for San Jose, Joel Kellman and Marcus Sorensen broke in on a 2-on-1. Kellman passed to Sorensen and he scored to tie the game at two.

Following a scoreless third, it was off to overtime. And San Jose did not wait around.

Just 38 seconds into the extra session, with the Sharks dominated puck control, Burns got the puck to the net by shielding it and creating a play. The puck was loose in front and Kane gained control of it from Damon Severson. He then made a nice no-look pass from the near hashmarks to Logan Couture, who was waiting at the side of the net to shovel it in and give the Sharks the 3-2 victory.

The Sharks outshot the Devils 30-23 and had less turnovers at eight to the Devils’ ten. San Jose also led in hits at 30-24. The Devils won 55-percent of the game’s faceoffs, with Zajac winning the most personally amongst centers at 58-percent. The Devils also had more blocked shots at 21 to eight.

Ice time-wise, Severson led with 24:22 (3:27 on the power play and 2:23 on the PK) while Nico Hischier led the forwards (and led all but two defensemen) with 20:20 (3:39 on the PP and 42 seconds shorthanded included).

Shots on goal were led by Severson and Kyle Palmieri with three each. Hits were led by Mueller and Subban with four apiece. Blocks by Mueller with five and takeaways by Severson with two.

Next up, the Devils travel down the California coast to Los Angeles where they take on the Kings on Saturday. That one is a 4 PM ET puck drop and we will have that for you then. Have a great weekend everyone!