Shutouts may be considered as a team stat, but a lot of the credit for them should go to the goaltender. They had a statistically perfect night. They achieved the ideal for a goaltender or a similar position in any sport: no goals allowed. Everything that came to him that wanted to get past him were denied. None shall pass - and they didn't in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania against the New Jersey Devils tonight. Scott Wedgewood earned his first win in his first appearance on Sunday. Tonight, he earned his first shutout in the NHL in a 3-0 win.
I do mean earned in the fullest sense. The Devils played a solid first period until the Devils went up 2-0. Typically, teams that are losing by one or two goals will attack more. Teams that have plenty of offensive talent, that are at home, and have been hot with six straight wins definitely will. And they did. The shooting attempts mounted. The number of shifts where Devils were forced back into their end of the rink increased. Wedgewood was under siege for most of this game. By the game's end, he faced 76 shooting attempts with 39 put on target. They came as far as the blueline to second chances right in his grill. He had shots coming off cycles to shots coming at him off odd man rushes, notably a 3-on-1 stop on Sidney Crosby near the start of the second period. Wedgewood never looked nervous or out of place. He didn't concede too many easy rebounds for the Penguins. Whatever came out was cleaned up by the defense or he had the reflexes to adjust for the stop. I cannot stress enough that he had a massive workload for about 45 minutes tonight and he got it all done. The Wedgewall - a far superior nickname than (sigh) Wedgie - stood tall in Western PA tonight.
Wedgewood wasn't the only standout Devil tonight. Kyle Palmieri definitely made a mark on this game. Travis Zajac sprung him for a one-on-one with an excellent bank pass. Marc-Andre Fleury helped #21 get #28 of his season by giving up a soft one through his legs. Even better, the goal came 26 seconds into the game. Palmieri punished Beau Bennett for a tug on David Warsofsky. The resulting power play went: faceoff win by Zajac to Reid Boucher, Boucher to Damon Severson, Severson to Palmieri, and a laser to the top right corner over Fleury's glove. The two goals by Palmieri gave the Devils room to work with if/when the Penguins would start pouring on the offensive pressure. The pressure really came after that second goal but in case things went awry, it wasn't as if the game was over for New Jersey. After Adam Henrique tacked on an insurance goal - same placement for the shot, too - in the third period, the Devils were essentially safe on the scoreboard. Wedgewood, some scrambling defense, and some inaccurate shooting by the Penguins preserved the shutout.
That really should be the story for the Penguins' side tonight. The hottest team in hockey just misfired on many attempts. While they got 39 on Wedgewood, they got blocked eighteen times and missed the net sixteen times. It seemed like more than that at times; especially with so many of those 39 actual shots being gobbled up by Wedgewood with little concern. From Phil Kessel missing the target six times (the side of the net doesn't count) to Trevor Daley missing the net on an open shot in the slot late in the third when the Pens were just hoping for one goal, it was just rough to watch for a Pens' fan. The Penguins looked their most dangerous in the second period, but their 22-13 advantage in attempts yielded a shot differential of 10-7 in favor of Pittsburgh. Throw in only three shots on net on three power plays with none of them threatening, and the home team just looked beyond frustrated. So much so that with 24 seconds left and after an icing by New Jersey, the Penguins put Fleury in net and went from 6-on-5 to 5-on-5 instead of going for the consolation goal. They had everything but the finish for many shifts; they end up with a big fat zero on the scoreboard and in the standings.
It's appropriate to be excited that the Devils just dunked on the Penguins and the kid who just had his second appearance in the NHL has allowed only one goal out of sixty-seven shots. Forget the standings and the draft. Despite some really dominant stretches by Pittsburgh in the second and third periods, the Devils built up a lead with sweet goals, never conceded it, and even added to it (with a sweet goal) as Wedgewood played like a wall. All against the team who just smacked down Washington on Sunday and has their best player play like the best player in the NHL - no, not Bryan Rust, but Crosby - in the last two weeks. I can go for that.
The Game Stats: The NHL.com Game Summary | The NHL.com Event Summary | The NHL.com Play by Play Log | The NHL.com Shot Summary | The Natural Stat Trick Advanced Stats | The HockeyStats.ca Advanced Stats
The Opposition Opinion: Hooks Orpik says this was a "stinker" for the Penguins in his recap at PensBurgh. Yeah, I can't disagree with that.
A Whole Lot of Negative: Yeah, if you like looking at the CF% in games, then the Devils' numbers will sadden you. That'll happen when the Devils are out-attempted 76-37 in all situations. At even strength, it was 66-27 in favor of Pittsburgh. Yet, we can identify who had it worse than others.
First, I hope Adam Larsson and Andy Greene will get a good night's sleep. They played a ton tonight, with Larsson playing over 27 minutes and Greene playing over 25 minutes. Despite being on the road, John Hynes did get 5-6 out there against Crosby's line. That was the right move, although it went as well as one would expect against a motivated unit of Crosby, Carl Hagelin, and Patric Hornqvist. Not to mention excellent support from Kris Letang and Olli Maatta. But if there's a pairing to have out against those players, then that's them. Much better than the number of shifts where Vojtech Mozik and David Warsofsky was out there against them.
Second, John Moore and Damon Severson did not fare well against the unit of Phil Kessel, Chris Kunitz, and Nick Bonino. Severson can at least point to setting up Palmieri for a goal as a positive tonight. Moore didn't even have that. Taking a high-sticking call isn't, even though it was not exactly an intentional one, but still a penalty. Of course, their usual forward group in front of them was really not providing much help.
Third, wow, the Adam Henrique line got hammered upon hammered. Don't misunderstand, I liked Joseph Blandisi's speed. I liked how Henrique drew a call shortly after a penalty kill in the first period. That goal by Henrique was sweet. They had more than one odd man rush. Yet, in their own zone, the Bonino-led line just made it a long night. Kunitz and Letang found plenty of success against them. Not that the other forwards were significantly better, but 14's line was seen more in their own end.
I know that a team losing going ahead in attempts and shots isn't a surprise or a shocking thing. But the Penguins really did a number on the Devils tonight. Again, Wedgewood had an excellent night.
Counter!: While the Devils were pinned back, they were able to take advantage of the Penguins pushing forward. I appreciated this aspect of the game by the Devils as they generated multiple odd-man rushes from it. The counter-attack yielded the first and third goals and the Devils had others. Some weren't realized. Such as Travis Zajac trying to force a pass on a shorthanded 2-on-1 to Henrique only to be denied by Letang's face. And Devante Smith-Pelly and Joseph Blandisi both passing up shots, yielding none at all late in the third period. But seeing the Devils of all teams do this to the Penguins speaks to the speed they did display on the ice despite their mostly-in-their-end play. Again, most of the aggressiveness by Pittsburgh was driven by New Jersey going up early in regulation. Good on New Jersey to take advantage.
A Pleasant Stretch: Because I'm me, I'm going to praise about ninety seconds of a power play that didn't score and put one shot on Fleury. Why? David Warsofsky. He was bossing the power play as the top one in their 1-3-1 formation. As the defenseman on the second unit, he kept pucks in play and distributing them well to the wings. Granted, Mike Sislo and Sergey Kalinin aren't on the level of Palmieri. But he kept that power play going until an errant pass by Kalinin eluded Warsofsky. His night was actually pretty good aside from the few times #87 pinned him back. The ninety seconds or so on that PP was the best I've seen from Warsofsky in his short time as a Devil.
The Debut of Pietila: Blake Pietila wore #56, lined up at left wing, and used his body a lot on defense. Not that I trust the hit stat or think very much of it, but when the scorer puts an '8' in that column on the Event Summary, it's a sign he was throwing the body around. He showed some good sense out there and got two shots on net. even though he got quite a few of his twelve-ish minutes of ice time against Pittsburgh's top six, it wasn't a bad debut in my eyes. It was OK. I'm curious to see how he'll do tomorrow against Washington now that the excitement that may come with a player's first NHL game will fade a bit.
Two Lines of Pain: Pittsburgh's top two lines and top defensive pairing carried much of the weight tonight for the Penguins. While Daley (big miss aside) and Brian Dumoulin weren't bad, the Penguins' bottom six lines just didn't make much. They combined for a couple of shots on net, a penalty that led to a PPG for the Devils, and didn't keep much of the pressure made by Crosby's and Bonino's units. You know it's a bad night when you're below 50% CF% on a night where the team led 66-27 in attempts. So it went for Bryan Rust, Tom Kuhnhackl, and Matt Cullen, who I didn't even know played in this game until I looked at Pittsburgh's stats for this game at Natural Stat Trick. Again, two lines of a lot of pain for New Jersey. Not much from the other two.
Two Last Thoughts: Fleury may have had no chance on a bang-bang play like Palmieri's blast for a power play goal. That first goal to Palmieri was brutal. The goal given up to Henrique wasn't that much better either. Not one of his best nights considering he didn't get swarmed much beyond the first period.
I was surprised to see the Penguins pull Fleury with about 3:45 left in the game. I get why Mike Sullivan did it. The team's down three so they needed goals and they needed them quickly. Yet, with the Penguins continuing to fire away as if they could break down a wall by just doing the same thing over and over, it was more of the same. Yes, they pinned the Devils back. Wedgewood would not be broken down - and he wasn't. The Devils were closer to scoring, with Kalinin missing on a clearance and Henrique getting denied by the empty net by a diving, backchecking Bonino. I suppose now that I wrote that out, I shouldn't have been surprised Sullivan put Fleury back in the net with 24 seconds left after a Devils' icing.
P.S.: Wedgewall comes from Wedgewood's Twitter account. Again, way better than Wedgie.
Your Take: The Devils shut out the Penguins and Wedgewood earned his first NHL shutout the hard way. He deserves a night off amid plenty of praise and perhaps a steak dinner on his teammates. The Devils cannot enjoy it for long as they'll come home to Newark for a game against Washington tomorrow night. Before then, I want to know what you think about this 3-0 win. Who was the best Devil outside of Wedgewood? What impressed you the most about Wedgewood's performance? How do you rate Pietila's debut? What should the Devils adjust ahead of their game against the Caps tomorrow? Please leave your answers and thoughts about tonight's game in the comments.
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