On Thursday, the Devils were the first team since the Rangers on opening night to hand the Chicago Blackhawks a loss on home ice. The Hawks are the measuring stick in the NHL (no matter how they are playing this season) due to being the defending Stanley Cup champs and bragging rights were on the line. Tonight, something different was on the line. With a defeat of the Pittsburgh Penguins, they could leapfrog them in the Metropolitan Division and Eastern Conference standings. The team would do just that with a complete, crisp, 100% effort from the roster, top to bottom.
Some good news came early for the Devils, as it was revealed today that Patrik Elias would be joining the team for the Western Canadian road trip next week. He has yet to suit up, having suffered a preseason knee injury, but is making steady progress and should be able to return to the lineup soon. As Steve Cangialosi pointed out on the MSG+ broadcast, though, the Devils have been playing so well of late that they do not need to rush him back to the lineup.
In other storylines, Ray Shero, John Hynes and Bobby Farnham would all be facing off with their former club tonight. Shero is, of course, the former GM that helped build the Penguins 2009 Stanley Cup team and Hynes coached their AHL team in Wilkes-Barre/Scranton for many seasons. Farnham saw some time with the big club and spent a good amount of time with the organization. It was to be a special game for them, even if Shero downplayed it, saying when they visit Pittsburgh for the first time in his tenure as Devils GM that that will be the bigger moment. However, it would go on to be a sweet one for all three men, no matter if they were taking the professional route and calling it “just another game.”
The Pens, coming off a game last night in Columbus, elected to go with backup Jeff Zatkoff instead of Marc-Andre Fleury. He had 33 saves on the night. The Devils countered with Cory Schneider, making his fourteenth start of the season, would grab all 21 of the shots he faced en route to a 4-0 shutout.
Cory Schneider (as has been the case lately) kept the Devils in the game while the teams kept things close in the first period, with the first goal of the game not coming until 15:28 of the first frame. David Schlemko scored off assists from Mike Cammalleri and Adam Henrique. The puck seemed to enter the net before the Penguins defenseman, Rob Scuderi, knocked the goal off its moorings. After a review in the situation room in Toronto, the call on the ice stood, it was a good goal. The reasoning given by the league was that the net was still in its right position before the flexible pegs that keep it moored gave way. Enough of the moorings were still in place to call the goal a good goal and it was 1-0 New Jersey.
The Devils had another potential goal called off with 1:41 of the second period when they also crashed the net and knocked it off its pegs. This one was called a no-goal on the ice and that call also stood due to the whistle being blown before the puck crossed the line and the net was subsequently knocked off.
The Devils would keep that lead until 6:44 of the second period when Pittsburgh’s Evgeni Malkin went off for tripping. On the ensuing power play, Cammalleri scored his sixth of the year from Jordin Tootoo and Damon Severson. The Devils got into trouble at 19:53 of the second when they were called for a bench minor for too many men on the ice. Pittsburgh would be starting the new period with a fresh sheet of ice. The Devils would eventually kill that off, going 5-5 on the penalty kill.
The rest of the scoring came in the third when former-Penguin Bobby Farnham scored at an odd angle, the puck running up Zatkoff’s back and into the net (assists to Henrique and Lee Stempniak) and Stempniak scored at 14:54 to ice the game (assists to Cammalleri, another multiple-point night for him and John Moore).
The Devils played a full game from the start to the finish, moving into third place in the Metro Division, jumping over Pittsburgh and the Islanders and into fourth place in the Eastern Conference. Jacob Josefson, though his name never appeared on the scoresheet, had a particularly good game, getting and creating scoring chances without finding the back of the net. Although times have been frustrating for him, the goals will come and he will get on-track sooner or later.
The key now for the team is to keep it up. It’s a long season and they have to compete at a high level every night in order to keep going. Like the players on Chicago noted, they do not have the most talent, but they do come to work every night. The large crowd at Prudential Center sensed that tonight. This is a hard working team that comes with their work boots every game and the fans have responded.
Next up, the team embarks on their Western Canadian road trip, visiting Calgary on Tuesday, Edmonton on Friday, November 20 and Vancouver a week from tomorrow. Their Western Conference-heavy schedule then slows down and they start seeing more teams from their own conference, starting the day before Thanksgiving against Columbus.
But that is getting too far ahead of ourselves. For now, the Devils are focusing on the Flames Tuesday night and savoring the complete win tonight.
Note: I also wanted to mention the induction of former (albeit briefly tenured) Devil Phil Housley into the Hockey Hall of Fame last Monday. Congratulations to Mr. Housley, now serving as an assistant coach with the Nashville Predators, and his family. It is a great honor for him and, though he only played 22 games for the Devils in the 1995-96 season, he will still forever be a part of Devils history.