Devils Drop Shootout in Pittsburgh

The Devils are in the middle of a rough stretch in their schedule. They have played three games in four nights and will play the bulk of their next games on the road. Tonight, they rolled into the PPG Paints Arena, the home of the Stanley Cup champs from a year ago and lost what can only be described as a heartbreaker to the Pittsburgh Penguins via shootout.

The Devils knew that their defense needed some tightening up from the last two games against Toronto and Detroit. It was for that reason that coach John Hynes decided to dress eleven forwards and seven defensemen. The odd men out would be healthy scratches Reid Boucher and Jacob Josefson.

With the Devils making the visit to Pittsburgh, it would be Ben Lovejoy and Beau Bennett’s first trip back to the Steel City since last Spring. They would be given their Stanley Cup championship rings after the game by Penguins officials.

The Pens were coming off of a 6-2 beating in Minnesota while the Devils, of course, lost in overtime to the Red Wings last night. So, with both clubs having played the night before, and Pittsburgh almost never losing back-to-back games, we would hopefully be in for a good game.

Keith Kinkaid got the start in net for New Jersey. He made 46 saves on 49 Penguins shots. Matt Murray opposed him and made 27 saves on 30 shots. The game featured a total of 79 shots and both goalies were allowed to shine at times. That also does not include shots that were not on target; at times it felt like Kinkaid, in particular, was in a shooting gallery. A lot of that is because the Devils spent a lot of time in the penalty box. Pittsburgh was 0-for-5 with the man advantage, with the Devils bearing down. The Devils were 1-for-2 with the extra skater.

This was only the Devils’ third Metropolitan Division game this year. They played the home-and-home with Carolina, which were the other two games in division. These were two crucial points up for grabs.

The Devils got the scoring going on what would be a busy night. It happened at 3:33 of the first period when Kyle Palmieri stole the puck behind the Pens’ net and slid it to Michael Cammalleri, who was at the far faceoff dot. He sniped it by Murray to post the Devils to a quick 1-0 lead. He was not done for the night. This was a shift after Cammalleri was bloodied by a high stick that was not called by the officials. Although they did not get the power play opportunity, they were still able to score as Cammalleri has been almost a one-man show of late.

Also in the first period, Bennett and Lovejoy would get a tribute on the big screen at PPG Paints Arena. The Penguins fans appreciated what Lovejoy did for the team in the playoffs last year and he returned the appreciation to the crowd. This happened during the first TV timeout of the game.

The Penguins would tie things up just 1:23 into the second period when Jake Guentzel scored on a goal mouth scramble from Evgeni Malkin and Trevor Daley. Things began to get out of hand for New Jersey a minute and fifteen seconds later when Tom Kuhnhackl scored to give Pittsburgh the 2-1 lead. Malkin and Steve Oleksy had the assists on that one.

But the Devils have been very resilient lately and Vern Fiddler would be the man to help them claw back into it this time. It began at 3:10 when Lovejoy was called for high sticking Scott Wilson and the Devils were on the penalty kill. At the four minute mark of the period, about a minute into the kill, Fiddler grabbed the puck in the Devils’ zone and sprinted down the right wing, making a power move on Murray. The puck snuck behind him and Phil Kessel slammed the puck against the boards in frustration as it came back out of the net. The Devils had tied things up at two on Fiddler’s first goal as a New Jersey Devil.

New Jersey would play a solid game from there on out. At 8:20 of the second frame, Pittsburgh’s Nick Bonino was sent off for hooking Cammalleri. And Cammalleri would make the most of this one. At 9:19, John Moore slid the puck point-to-point with Pavel Zacha, who connected on a pass to Cammalleri, who was camped out in the same spot where he scored his first goal of the night from. Cammalleri unleashed a one-timer by Murray to give the Devils the 3-2 lead on the power play.

And that was where things stood for the rest of the period. Sidney Crosby hit the post on a good chance late in the second, Kyle Quincey was able to calmly clear the puck from the crease and avoid danger.

The Devils got into some trouble on a penalty with six seconds remaining in the second period. Travis Zajac was called for delay of game on a face off violation (he used his hand to take control of the puck off the draw) this would give Pittsburgh a fresh sheet of ice for almost an entire power play to begin the third. The Devils were playing with fire in giving the Penguins so many power play opportunities. Luckily for them, Kinkaid stood on his head at times and the penalty killing unit has been very good of late.

The Devils had the lead and were playing well seemingly on the cusp of victory. Pittsburgh pulled Murray with about a minute left in the game. Cammalleri came close to netting a hat trick twice when he was staring at an empty net on his knees and again when he had to spin around and shot the puck wide just inside the Pens’ blue line. The Devils, it turns out, would need that insurance goal that they never got.

No lead is safe with Sidney Crosby on the ice, though, and sure enough, on a goal mouth scramble where Kinkaid could not find the puck at 19:46 of the third, Crosby calmly picked the puck out of Devils’ defenseman Andy Greene’s skates and roofed it behind Kinkaid. The game was tied up at three and we were headed for overtime again.

The Devils had picked up a hard fought point on the road, but they were very close to getting the full two points and denying a division foe any points.

The OT period expired with no goal, although Cammalleri again had a chance to end it. This time, he picked the pocket of a Penguins defender deep in the Pittsburgh zone and was stopped by Murray’s right pad as he came out of the corner. This was just as time was running out on the clock. It would take a shootout to end this one.

Kinkaid had a tough proposition, as he had to face Malkin, Crosby and Kris Letang (in that order) in the shootout. He stopped the first two, but it was the defenseman who beat him with a nice move. The Devils sent out PA Parenteau, Cammalleri and Zajac, but Murray stopped all three. Pittsburgh came away with the victory.

Although it was a heartbreaking loss for the Devils, losing the lead late as they did, they did pick up a point and were able to gain ground on the Capitals in the divisional standings – Washington lost to the Maple Leafs tonight.

Next up, the Devils will return home to practice and then head out to Winnipeg on Monday to face the Jets in Manitoba on Tuesday. It’s another game against a Western Conference team and the start of another road trip, but hopefully for the Devils, they can pick up some points. Having just passed the first quarter point of the 2016-17 NHL season, keeping in the playoff hunt will require gathering as many points as they can.

Vern Fiddler Makes Return to Dallas as Charitable as Ever

An interesting article appeared in the Asbury Park Press today courtesy of Andrew Gross, the Devils’ beat writer for The Record. It profiled Vernon Fiddler and his connection to the city of Dallas and its people. What you see in Gross’ piece is a guy who is tough on the ice, a great teammate and a family man who is trying to help people in his adopted home town as best he can.

Fiddler played five years for the Stars before signing a one-year, $1.25 million contract with the Devils this past summer. Prior to that, he spent time with the Nashville Predators (where he played more seasons, but fewer games than in Dallas) and the Arizona Coyotes.

But it is Dallas that the Edmonton native calls home now. His family still lives in a Dallas suburb and he has said that when he finally hangs the skates up for good, he will continue to call Texas home. As Fiddler told Gross “(T)his is going to be our home, we got our Green Cards last year. This is where my kids have been raised. My daughter even has a little Texas twang to her.”

Fiddler had about 60-70 friends and family at the American Airlines Center for last night’s game. Among those were his 9 year old son’s squirt hockey team (a team that Gross notes Fiddler has coached in the past) and another special fan: 9 year old Chloe Brown. Chloe is a two time cancer survivor (beating cancer first when she was 15 months old and again at 3 years old). She sat rinkside for the morning skate and Fiddler gave her a Devils jersey.

Chloe is one of “Fidd’s Kids” which is a charitable organization put together by Vernon and his wife, Chrissy. Gross mentions that it is in conjunction with the Dallas Stars foundation and brings “families and children served by non-profit organizations to the arena.”

Fiddler told Gross that “(S)he’s a special fan of mine. She has a special spot in my heart.” He added “(S)he’s a girl that’s inspired a lot of people in Dallas. It’s great to have her around today.”

Fiddler is also a hit in the Devils locker room with his new teammates. Taylor Hall, in an appearance on the NHL Network recently, mentioned Fiddler as the funniest member of the Devils, noting that he has a very dry sense of humor. Kyle Palmieri told Gross that “(H)e’s been awesome since he got here. I hated everything about him, playing against him so it’s good to have him on our side. We knew how he plays and what he’s all about and he brings a veteran presence and leadership.”

For his part, Fiddler said he was less nervous about his return to Dallas than he was when he returned to Nashville after leaving that city. “When you’re a little bit older, you’ve gone through it a few times. I don’t think I was as nervous today as when I went back to Nashville. There’s mixed emotions. There’s always good memories.”

Fiddler, 36, was originally signed as an undrafted free agent by Ray Shero in Nashville and is reunited with him here in New Jersey. He spent eight seasons with the Predators.

Last night in Dallas, though, the chirpy center got the silent treatment from his former Stars teammates during warmups “Actually, I’d rather do that than have guys chit-chatting with me. It’s definitely going to be weird playing against these guys” he told Gross.

But the emotions could not be contained when the Stars ran a video tribute to him on the big screen at the American Airlines Center last night. The MSG cameras caught the gritty fourth liner getting a little bit emotional on the Devils’ bench while coach John Hynes applauded behind him along with the thousands of fans in attendance.

Vern Fiddler is one of the good guys in hockey: a good teammate and hockey player but, more importantly, a good member of his adopted community in Dallas.