Devils Back in Action; Come Up Big in Steel Town

After eight-days off, the Devils could have been excused for being a bit rusty. They had dropped their last two before that midseason layoff, the first of which was to the same Pittsburgh Penguins they were going to play tonight.

And while the Pens are a force at PPG Paints Arena (having one of the better won-loss records in the league points percentage-wise at home), the road team had won the previous three games in this year’s season series between the teams.

However, the Devils were healthy with the time off. Leading scorer Jesper Bratt was back from his upper body injury suffered in St. Louis, Andreas Johnsson returned after leaving warmups with a lower body injury in the February 13 game at home against the Penguins and, the big one, Dougie Hamilton made his return after his broken jaw suffered January 2 against the Washington Capitals.

The Devils had a nearly full lineup available to them. Marian Studenic was claimed off of waivers by the Dallas Stars earlier today, so they do not have him. Colton White, Mason Geertsen and Christian Jaros were the healthy scratches for New Jersey.

Each team came in riding a two-game losing streak. The Devils had dropped the game to Pittsburgh on Super Bowl Sunday and then on February 15 to the Tampa Bay Lightning.

The Pens’ Sidney Crosby would be denied his 500th career NHL goal that Sunday in Newark but did notch it a few days later against the Philadelphia Flyers. He would be kept from hitting the back of the net tonight but not off of the scoresheet.

In net, Nico Daws got the start for the Devils and was, in short, locked in in his fourth career NHL start – earning the 6-1 win, his second NHL victory. He made 37 saves on 38 total Pittsburgh shots for a .974 save percentage on the night. On the power play, he stopped two of three shots as the Pens were 1-for-4 on the power play as a team. Daws pitched a shutout at even strength, making 35 saves on all 35 shots he saw.

The Penguins started Tristan Jarry, who stopped 14 of the 19 total shots he saw for a .737 save percentage. He gave up one goal on two Devils power play shots and turned aside 13 of the 17 shots he saw at five-on-five.

Casey DeSmith was brought on in relief of Jarry in the second period following the Devils’ fifth goal. He stopped 16 of 17 total shots for a .941 save percentage. He stopped three of the Devils’ four power play shots on him (the Devils finished with six power play shots while going 2-for-5 as a team on the man advantage). DeSmith stopped all 13 shots he had against him at even strength. The Devils with 36 total shots in the game.

The Devils came out flying, to the surprise of some – including the Pittsburgh Penguins.

Jesper Bratt scored just 1:16 into the game as Pavel Zacha sprang Nico Hischier and Bratt on a two-on-one with Penguins’ defenseman John Marino back. Hischier took the shot himself as Marino played the two-on-one well.

Jarry made the save, but the puck got loose in the crease, dribbling out to Bratt at the near side of the goal. Bratt simply tapped the puck in to make it 1-0 Devils.

Bratt was not done yet.

Bryan Rust hit the post just moments after Bratt’s first goal (and the goal horn briefly went off), following the Devils’ defender leaving his feet too early on the play. Rust skated around him and took a shot, but nailed the iron.

A little more than four minutes later, at 5:47 gone by, the Devils won a draw in the Penguins’ zone. Hamilton shot from the point and the rebound came to Hischier. Hischier was stopped by Jarry as well. After the puck pinballed around the zone, it eventually came to Bratt in the slot, who had time to shoot, calmy picked his spot and scored – officially unassisted – to make it 2-0 Devils.

The Devils would round out the first period by making it 3-0 at 6:44 gone by.

Yegor Sharangovich extended his point scoring streak to five games when a clearing attempt by the Penguins came around the boards to PK Subban at the far point in the Pens’ zone.

Subban looked to shoot, but instead passed to Sharangovich down low. With very little space, Sharangovich roofed a shot above Jarry to make it 3-0.

The Devils had come out rolling, finally giving Daws some run support to get himself on his way.

Pittsburgh coach Mike Sullivan used their timeout immediately after Sharangovich’s goal to settle his team down. The Devils had scored on three of their first nine shots in the game and the Pens were rattled clearly.

But Daws, as mentioned, was locked in. He made a big right pad save, moving left to right in the crease to make a good save in the middle of the first period and he would come up big late in the first as well.

This was third time this season that the Devils had scored three goals in the first period. They did so on December 31, 2021 (against the Edmonton Oilers) and on January 31, 2022 at the Toronto Maple Leafs.

The second period started with the Devils up by three. Daws kicked the frame off by stopping Marino big in close.

At the 9:24 gone by mark of the second, the Devils would score again. The Devils got the puck into the Pittsburgh zone and Pens’ defenseman Marcus Pettersson recovered it and tried to reverse around the boards as the Devils began a heavy forecheck.

Jack Hughes came in behind him and Pettersson ended up turning the puck over to Hughes on a bobble. Hughes made a nice spin around pass to center it to Dawson Mercer on the doorstep.

He scored on the Devils’ first shot of the second period to make it 4-0.

As good as things were going for the Devils, there was still that reminder that they were playing the high-flying Pittsburgh Penguins.

That reminder came in the middle of the second period when the Pens came on strongly.

At 10:18 gone by, the Devils were put on the penalty kill when Nathan Bastian went off for holding Dominik Simon.

With Pittsburgh on the power play, their superstars took over.

Evgeni Malkin grabbed the puck out of the Pens zone and skated it into the Devils end. There he played give and go with Crosby. Malkin gave it to Crosby along the left-wing boards and went to the middle of the ice. He got the puck back and scored a power play goal to make it 4-1 Devils.

And just like that, it would have been possible for the Pens to get back into things and change the momentum of the game.

But the Devils weathered the storm and, eventually, Pittsburgh’s Brock McGinn was assessed a high-sticking penalty against Ryan Graves at 12:59.

With the Devils on the man advantage, they won an offensive zone draw with Hischier getting it back to Hughes at the point. He played catch with Damon Severson, who got the puck back and blasted a shot by Jarry at 13:37 to make it 5-1 on the power play.

It was after this goal that Jarry was pulled by Sullivan in favor of DeSmith. The Devils were beginning to pour it on.

Malkin had another chance to get the Penguins into things when he hit the post late in the second period. Daws would then make a big save on the Pens (who were on the power play) as time ticked down in the second).

The third period saw things get a little crazy penalty-wise for the Pens.

It actually began with New Jersey’s Severson taking a tripping penalty against Kasperi Kapanen at 6:41 gone by.

Pittsburgh was on the power play, but only for about 50 seconds when Crosby was called for cross checking Graves. That evened things out at 4-on-4 for almost a minute until the Devils would go on the power play.

Then, at 8:17 gone, Jeff Carter laid a vicious-looking high hit on Mercer. He was officially given a double minor for high sticking at 8:17. Mercer was okay and it would now be 4-on-3 for about 24 seconds followed by 43 seconds of 5-on-3 depending on how things would shake down.

As it turned out, Hischier would score at the 9:30 mark (just as Crosby’s penalty was ending, but before the first two-minutes of Carter’s penalty was up, so the Devils would still have another two minutes of power play time after).

The goal came when Bratt wound the puck around the boards in the Pittsburgh zone to Hughes. Hughes made a quick pass out of the far corner to Hischier, who was in the middle of the ice. Hischier scored to make it 6-1, which would be our final.

Daws would make one more big glove save on Evan Rodrigues (who was shooting from the slot) with less than a minute to go in the game. This was symbolic as Daws put the capper on a very good game from him.

The Devils had the two points in a place that that was hard to come by for, not just them, but for most visiting team.

Hischier ended the game with a goal and two assists for three points, Bratt had two goals and an assist for three points, while Hughes quietly had three assists for three points as well.

The Devils were outshot 38 to 36 by Pittsburgh. New Jersey also won 47-percent of the game’s faceoffs (with Hischier leading Devils centers with a 71-percent personal winning percentage).

The Devils had ten team penalty minutes while the Penguins had 12. Pittsburgh had 23 hits to the Devils’ 21. Blocked shots were led by the Devils by one with 13 to Pittsburgh’s 12. Team giveaways saw the Devils with 11 and the Pens with seven.

Severson led all Devils skaters in time on ice with 22:10 logged (which 3:07 on the power play and 3:59 on the penalty kill). Jonas Siegenthaler led Devils defensemen in shorthanded time with 5:06 out of his 21:55 of total time on ice.

For the forwards, Hischier led in total time with 17:19 (including 3:22 on the power play and 1:57 on the PK). Hughes led in PP time with 3:59 out of his total of 16:43 logged. Jimmy Vesey had 3:46 of shorthanded time (out of his 14:40 of total TOI). Michael McLeod also had 3:46 of shorthanded time out of his 16:28 of total time – he also logged 24 seconds of power play time.

Hamilton led with five shots on goal in his return to the team. He and Graves tied for most hits with four each. SIegenthaler led in blocks with four. Hughes led in personal giveaways with two while Vesey led in personal takeaways with two.

Next up, the Devils will finish off their back-to-back by traveling to Chicago to take on the Blackhawks at 8:30 PM.

The Blackhawks, obviously, have had a bad year both on and off the ice, to say the least. We will see how the Devils will follow up tonight’s big win in Pittsburgh when they head to the Windy City complete their season series with the Hawks.

We will have coverage for you here immediately following the game. Until then, have a good Friday everyone.

Devils Beaten by Pens on Super Sunday, 4-2

The Devils had spent their last two games beating the Montreal Canadiens and the St. Louis Blues by football scores, putting up a touchdown and extra point for seven goals in each game.

Today, however, Super Bowl Sunday, when the Los Angeles Rams and the Cincinnati Bengals will square off for the Vince Lombardi Trophy later this evening, the Devils were beaten by a much more modest 4-2 score line by the Pittsburgh Penguins.

The Devils had played five times before on Super Bowl Sunday, coming into today with a 4-0-1 record (that “1” was a 4-4 tie – against the Islanders in 1990), but the Penguins were playing for first place in the Metropolitan Division with a win.

There were a few changes to the Devils lineup necessitated by injury.

Leading scorer Jesper Bratt (upper body injury) was out along with Christian Jaros (a healthy scratch) and Andreas Johnsson – who was a late scratch while dealing with a lower body injury. He was replaced by Marian Studenic. Janne Kuokkanen (wrist injury) was placed on Injured Reserve yesterday.

Returning was All-Star Jack Hughes from COVID protocol. He started the game skating on a line with Yegor Sharangovich and Nico Hischier. Although Jack and the captain were excited to play together on the same line prior to the game, it did not last long as coach Lindy Ruff split them up to redistribute scoring around the lineup a little better.

Pittsburgh did have Evgeni Malkin in as he was cleared from COVID protocol by puck drop. There was some speculation that he would not play for them today.

In goal, the Devils were back to Jon Gillies, who not only achieved his first two wins as a Devil over the past road trip, he also notched his first NHL point with an assist in the victory at St. Louis on Thursday.

Today, he made 31 saves on 34 total shots for a .912 save percentage. He was equal to all six Pittsburgh power play shots – as the Pens went, officially, 0-for-3 on the man advantage (although we will get into a technicality on that a little later). At even strength, he stopped 25 of the Penguins’ 28 attempts.

Pittsburgh countered with Tristan Jarry – a 2022 All-Star – who made 28 saves on 30 total Devils shots for a .933 afternoon save percentage. On special teams, he stopped the Devils’ lone shorthanded chance and two power play shots. As a team. The Devils were 0-for-2 on the power play. Jarry turned aside 25 of 27 shots at five-versus-five play.

The Devils were in their third uniforms tonight.

Also of note, the Pens’ Sidney Crosby is one goal away from his 500th career NHL goal. Going into this game, he had been held off the scoresheet without a point versus the Devils – a divisional team that he scores a lot against. He would once again be Michael McLeod’s responsibility defensively.

Following a scoreless first period, where Gillies made a huge save on Jeff Carter midway through the frame, the second period would see a similar start.

Sharangovich had a shorthanded chance (Colton White was off for a tripping call) where he made a beautiful move around the Pittsburgh defense and then was stopped by Jarry. Jarry had to really fight off the chance as he was playing deep in his net. Still, an impressive play Sharangovich and save by Jarry.

Then, with 13:59 to go in the second, the Devils had seemed to grab a lead when PK Subban skated the puck coast-to-coast. He was stopped initially by Jarry and the Devils collapsed in on the net. Studenic put the puck in, but Subban had fallen onto Jarry, impeding his ability to make the save.

The goal was waved off on the ice as the referee cited incidental contact between Subban and Jarry. There was not enough there for a goalie interference penalty, but the goal would not count.

The Devils would gain the lead for real with 7:02 gone in the second when Pavel Zacha backhanded a pass to Sharangovich while Zacha was along the right half wall. Sharangovich peeled back to relieve a little bit of pressure in the middle of the ice and then fed Jack Hughes on the left side of the ice.

Hughes snapped a quick shot off while he was all alone, basically one-on-one with Jarry. He scored to make it 1-0 Devils. The secondary assist, awarded to Zacha, was his 100th NHL assist, so congratulations to him on that milestone.

Following the Hughes goal, it was Gillies and McLeod who came up big, with Gillies making a big save on the Pens, the puck hitting the post behind him and then bouncing into the air with McLeod batting it away to safety to preserve the lead.

However, Pittsburgh would end up tying things prior to the break.

At 13:16 gone by in the second, Jonas Siegenthaler attempted to pass the puck out of the far corner and turned the puck over. Brian Boyle got it behind the Devils net and moved it to Chad Ruhwedel at the near half wall. He passed to Mike Matheson in the middle of the ice and Matheson took a half slapper that he perfectly placed over Gillies’ glove and in to tie the game at one.

The third period would quite a bit of action between the teams.

It began with the Devils killing a penalty. The team had taken a too many men on the ice bench minor at 18:30 gone by in the second, meaning that it would last at least 30 seconds into the third.

Just 36 seconds into the third period, six seconds after the penalty ended, Kris Letang passed off of the far half wall to Bryan Rust at the point. Rust blasted a shot by Gillies to give the Pens a 2-1 lead. Crosby had the secondary assist, his first point of the season against the Devils.

Although it was an even strength goal technically, it was one of those that for all intents and purposes was still a power play goal. Tomas Tatar, who was serving the penalty for New Jersey, had come out of the box, but did not have enough time to jump back into the play to even things out.

So Pittsburgh now had their first lead of the afternoon, but the Devils would strike to knot things again.

At 2:51 gone by in the second, Nico Hischier and Tatar played give and go along the right side boards. Nico got the puck back and shot from near the near side faceoff circle. His shot hit Letang’s leg, then ricocheted off of the near post and the back of Jarry’s leg and into the Pens’ net. Damon Severson had the secondary assist on the game-tying goal.

For Hischier, that extends his goal-scoring streak to four games (his longest such streak since 2018, when he also had a four-game goal streak).

The Devils had fought back and would continue to fight through the pressure.

The Penguins spent a good portion of the middle of the third period applying that pressure to the Devils, sustaining possession in the New Jersey zone and creating chance after chance.

But Gillies, on his way to being named the game’s third star, simply battled to keep the Devils in things. He did all he could to keep the puck out of the Devils net before the 6:58 mark when Zach Aston-Reese moved the puck from the half wall to Matheson at the point. Matheson threw the puck on goal, just trying to get it on net and create another chance. Boyle, the big body in front, was there to overpower his way to the rebound and score, making it 3-2 Penguins.

It was a bit heartbreaking as the Devils and Gillies had worked hard to keep Pittsburgh off the board at that point. But the Pens are just a good, deep team and, with too much sustained pressure, that goal was almost inevitable.

So now the Devils were playing from behind late. Gillies would be pulled with about two minutes or so left in the game which now gave Crosby the potential to score his 500th NHL goal into the empty net.

For the record, according to Steve Cangialosi, the last NHL player to score his 500th goal into an empty net was Keith Tkachuk.

But instead, it was Jake Guentzel who would ice the game for the Pens. He scored into the vacated New Jersey net at the 18:53 mark of the third from Rust and Crosby (so close…) to give us our final score of 4-2.

The Devils were outshot 35-30 and won 45-percent of the game’s draws. Zacha led individually with a 70-percent winning percentage.

The Devils ended the game with six accumulated penalty minutes as a team while Pittsburgh had four. The Devils were edged in hits 20-19, evening the gap a little more against the Pens with Mason Geertsen back in the lineup for the third straight game. The Devils had 20 blocked shots to the Pens’ ten while Pittsburgh had 13 team giveaways to the Devils’ nine.

Severson led all Devils skaters in time on ice with 24:36 (including 1:56 on the power play and 5:32 killing penalties). Ty Smith had slightly more power play time at 1:58 out of his 18:42 of total TOI to lead the defensemen in that category.

For the forwards, Sharangovich led in total ice time with 20:55 logged (2:00 of PP time and 2:47 of PK time included in that). McLeod led the forwards in shorthanded time with 3:31 out of his 14:11 of total time and Tatar was the leader in power play time with 2:04 out of his 14:51 of total time logged.

Shots on goal were led by Hughes with five. Hits by Geertsen with five. Blocks by Ryan Graves with four. Personal giveaways were led by Hughes and Siegenthaler with two each while personal takeaways were led by Jimmy Vesey with two.

Next up, another steep challenge for the Devils as they welcome the Tampa Bay Lightning to Newark on Tuesday, which will precede more than a week off for the Devils. Puck drop for the Tampa game is 7 PM on MSG+.

We will have coverage for you following the finish right here. Until then, enjoy the big game tonight, whether you have a rooting interest or not and we’ll see you on Tuesday night for Devils hockey!