Devils Drop Wild One in Steel City

Hockey can be a crazy game. Sometimes you give up six goals over the first two periods and then, boom!, you make a third period comeback and score six to only drop the game 7-6.

That’s exactly what happened to the New Jersey Devils tonight. In the first of three straight against the Penguins in Pittsburgh, the Devils gave up six goals over the first two periods and then made a comeback for the ages – scoring six goals in one period (the first time they had done so since 1996 against the Hartford Whalers) – but giving one up to lose 7-6.

First, a big welcome back to Erika Wachter and Bryce Salvador from the COVID protocol list. They missed eight games since going on the list on April 8. They made their return to TV tonight, but unfortunately, they were replaced on the COVID list by PK Subban, who did not play tonight.

He joined Ty Smith (upper body), Mackenzie Blackwood (upper body), Pavel Zacha and Jesper Bratt on the sidelines. Connor Carrick slotted in on defense for Subban. Mikhail Maltsev was the lone healthy scratch.

With Blackwood out, Scott Wedgewood made his first start in two weeks and… it did not go well. He faced 13 shots and let in four, making only nine saves for a .692 save percentage. All of those shots and goals came at even strength.

Aaron Dell came on in relief in the second period and made 16 saves on 19 shots with an .842 save percentage. He stopped the lone shorthanded shot the Pens threw at him and was 2-for-3 on the power play (the Penguins went 1-for-2 on the power play). He stopped 19-of-23 at even strength. The Pens finished with 32 total shots.

In goal for Pittsburgh, Tristan Jarry stopped 23-of-30 Devils’ shots for an .800 save percentage. He let in the only Devils shorthanded goal, stopped five of their six power play shots (the Devils were 1-for-4 on the power play) and stopped 19-of-23 at even strength. He also picked up a point – an assist on a Brian Dumoulin goal.

And now let’s get to the goal recaps because there were a lot of them and I want to sleep tonight.

It began 3:49 into the game when Pittsburgh’s Mike Matheson scored. Jared McCann gathered a loose puck and passed to Cody Ceci, who bobbled the pass but moved it up top to Matheson at the point. Matheson then blasted a shot by Wedgewood to make it 1-0 Penguins.

Bryan Rust made it 2-0 at 8:04 when the Pens’ Jake Guentzel got the puck to Sidney Crosby, who banked a pass off of the boards to Rust, who got in behind the Devils’ defense. He shot past Wedgewood’s left pad and scored.

A strange one next. Dumoulin dumped the puck into the Devils zone at 9:49 and the puck took a weird hop, as Wedgewood was deep in his net and it bounced through him and in. Jarry had the assist on this goal, which made it 3-0 Pittsburgh.

One more before the first period was up. Newly acquired Jeff Carter scored just moments after Miles Wood hit the post on a partial breakaway for the Devils. McCann passed threw the puck towards Carter and the puck bounced off of Jonas Siegenthaler’s skate and came right to Carter. He fanned on the shot, kind of sending a fluttering puck Wedgewood’s way. It hit Matt Tennyson and redirected past Wedgewood to make it 4-0 Penguins. The goal came at the 17:56 mark of the first and Kris Letang had the secondary assist.

When the horn sounded, the period from hell was over for Scott Wedgewood and so was his night. Aaron Dell came in to play the second.

And he let one in just 1:12 into the new frame when Evan Rodrigues got the puck off of the end board, shot in by Zach Aston-Reese. He faked a shot and made a nice no-look, behind-the-back pass to Teddy Blueger, who shot into a wide-open net and scored. It was now 5-0 Pens.

Rodrigues would get one of his own later in the second. At 15:18, he scored on the power play. It was a weak elbowing call against Siegenthaler, as the Pittsburgh player kind of ran into him with Siegenthaler not moving his elbow.

But it was what it was and the Devils had to kill the penalty.

They did not when, with mere seconds left on the man advantage, Jason Zucker at the side of the Devils’ net passed to Rodrigues at the far faceoff circle. He scored from there to put up the touchdown in the home of the Pittsburgh Steelers. John Marino had the secondary assist.

The Devils were deep in a hole when the third period started, but things were about to get even weirder.

Just 41 seconds into the third, with the Devils on a 5-on-3 power play for 1:19. Nick Merkley threw a saucer pass through the slot to Nico Hischier at the bottom of the far faceoff circle. He scored to make it 6-1. Will Butcher had the secondary assist.

At 5:14, with the Devils down a man, Yegor Sharangovich scored the Devils’ first shorthanded goal since Kyle Palmieri did it in Boston earlier in the year. It came unassisted when he intercepted a Letang pass just inside the Devils blue line and was off to the races. He cut in on net with a Penguin defender draped all over him and shot between the post and Jarry’s stick to beat him. It was now 6-2 Devils.

At 8:49, Nathan Bastian cut the Pens lead in half when Miles Wood went low-to-high with Butcher. Butcher shot and Bastian reached out with his stickto redirect a puck going wide past the right post to make it 6-3 Penguins.

A brief interlude by Pittsburgh that would go down as the game winner when, at 11:15, Guentzel got the puck to Crosby, camped out just below the goal line. Crosby took the pass and, with a quick release, roofed it in and out over Dell. That made it 7-3 as the Pens put up the extra point.

But the Devils were not done making this a game.

At 12:52, Jack Hughes scored when Sharangovich gained the Penguins’ zone, stopped just inside the blue line and found a seam to a cutting Hughes coming up the right wing. Hughes shot and beat Jarry stick side. It was now 7-4 Pittsburgh.

At 13:56, Merkley passed cross-ice to Nolan Foote, who was placed at the near faceoff dot. He shot and scored, notching his first NHL goal in just his second NHL game. Damon Severson had the secondary assist.

Dell was pulled with about 1:25 left in regulation and the Devils capitalized. The Pens could not clear the zone and Butcher kept it in. He gave to Wood, who got it to Andreas Johnsson. Johnsson banked the puck off of Ceci and Jarry’s skates and into the net from behind the net, breaking his goalless drought. That made it 7-6 as this was officially the highest scoring game for the Devils since a 7-6 loss to the Tampa Bay Lightning on October 30, 2019.

But that was how it was to stay. The Crosby goal proved the insurance the Pens needed and, though Dell was pulled a second time, the Devils could not equalize. The Devils had lost their seventh in a row.

The Devils were outshot 32-30, won 45-percent of the game’s faceoffs, were outhit 23-21 and had less blocked shots at 18-9. They did have one fewer turnover at three to Pittsburgh’s four.

Nico Hischier led in faceoff winning percentage for centers with a 48-percent clip. Severson led the team in time on ice with 23:30 while Hischier led the forwards with 21:02. Hischier and Hughes led in power play time with 5:03 on the man advantage.

Shots were led by Hischier, Hughes and Butcher who each had four. Bastian led in hits with four. Carrick led in blocks with four while Michael McLeod led in takeaways with two.

Next up, the Devils remain in Pittsburgh, playing game two of this three-game miniseries on Thursday at 7 PM. We will see what the Devils can muster and if they can beak their seven game winless skid.

We will have coverage for you then and, of course, everyone stay safe in the meantime.

Coleman Traded to Tampa

In news that came down during the Devils 4-3 shootout victory over the Columbus Blue Jackets earlier tonight, fan favorite forward Blake Coleman has been dealt to the Tampa Bay Lightning. This was the second of two deals made by Devils’ interim general manager Tom Fitzgerald today, a little over a week before the NHL Trade Deadline. Defenseman Andy Greene was sent to the New York Islanders earlier in the day.

Coleman, who had 21 goals and 31 points this season, was traded in exchange for left winger Nolan Foote and Vancouver’s first round pick in this year’s NHL Entry Draft. The pick is conditional. Should Vancouver miss the playoffs this year, the pick becomes the Canucks’ first round pick in 2021.

The Devils could now conceivably have eight picks in the 2020 Draft, including a potential for three first round picks (their own, Arizona’s and the Canucks’ – via Tampa Bay).

Foote, the son of former NHL defenseman Adam, is currently 19 and playing for the Kelowna Rockets of the Western Hockey League. According to the Devils’ press release, Foote has 15 goals and 18 assists (33 points) in 26 games for the Rockets this season. He won a gold medal with Team Canada at the World Junior Championship back in December, as well. The release mentions that he has played with Ty Smith on the WHL All-Star team at the Jr. Super Series the last two years. Foote stands 6-feet, four-inches tall and weight 200 pounds as of now.

The release says that he was born in Denver while his father was a member of the Avalanche and was selected 27th overall in the first round by the Lightning in 2019.

Fitzgerald summed up the feeling of most fans when he said: “This transaction allows us to acquire two key pieces in continuing to build this team around our foundational cornerstones.” Those “foundational cornerstones” include Nico Hischier, Jack Hughes and Mackenzie Blackwood according to Fitzgerald himself in a pregame press conference regarding the Greene trade on MSG Network.

He continued: “Foote is a big, physical winger, with an excellent shot and great offensive instincts, especially on the power play. He will complement our young forward group for a long time.”

But in order to get, you have to give. The Devils will miss a player like Coleman, who was a great penalty killer and always dangerous for a shorthanded goal. He really became an all-situations player this year, as he was starting to get more time on the power play.

He was also, of course, a fan favorite. There was a contingent of fans who were interested in seeing Coleman even being named the Devils’ next captain.

But he was going to be a free agent after next season and right now, he was a peak value to a win-now team like the Lightning. The Devils got a really great package back for him, possibly even better than what they got for Taylor Hall. The pick gives them more ammo at the Draft and Foote is, by all accounts, a really good prospect who could be a key part of the Devils moving forward.

So, while it is sad to see Blake Coleman go (he posted a note to Devils fans and management on his social media thanking them for how he was treated in his time in New Jersey), the return we got should make Devils fans very excited for the future.