Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania featured one heck of a hockey game between the Pittsburgh Penguins and the New Jersey Devils. Even with the Penguins’ long list of injuries, they’re still a top-tier team hosting not only a really bad Devils team, but a really bad Devils team that played the night before. This could have been ugly. Instead, it was an exciting and watchable game from start to finish with plenty of intrigue, incidents, and goals. Of course, the Devils lost 4-6 to the Penguins. With little for the Devils to really play for this season, that should be appreciated.
Seriously, this game had it all. Did the top scorers score? Sidney Crosby and Kyle Palmieri each put up two goals. Was there plenty of action? You bet as the Penguins put up 43 shots and 68 shooting attempts. The Devils - yes, the 2016-17 Devils - put up 36 shots and 57 attempts. Goals? Of course there were goals: nine total non-empty net goals. Saves? Despite the number of goals, Keith Kinkaid stepped up big time. Strange to praise a goalie that conceded five goals, but he made a lot of tough saves in tough situations throughout the night. Coaching errors? Each team took a too many men on the ice call and it was back-to-back (first Pittsburgh, then New Jersey right after that power play ended). John Hynes wiped out a power play with his words and Mike Sullivan torched his timeout when his challenge on a late third period power play goal by Kyle Palmieri failed for goaltender interference. Penalty shots? There could have been two! Phil Kessel was tapped by Ben Lovejoy during a breakaway with less than 30 seconds left in the second period. Kessel was stopped. With less than two seconds left in the same period, Taylor Hall broke away, was more egregiously slashed by Justin Schultz, and that only led to a minor penalty. It should have been a penalty shot and so Hynes was irate - too irate. Ultimately, a game where one would expect the Pens to mop the floor with the Devils’ crummy play and increasingly-AHL lineup. Instead, the Devils managed to stay close to the Pens, were only down by a score late, and Crosby had to sail in an ENG to seal the win. Most of all, the game had a fast pace to it. With six penalties, a penalty shot, a coach’s challenge, and ten goals, the game itself went long. But the run of play was fast as both team’s defenses were loose.
Too loose in the case of New Jersey. After all, they conceded more shots, a significant number of shots (43!!!), and their goals against indicted them more. Prout effectively assisted on Carter Rowney’s first NHL goal and eventual game winner when his turnover led to a two-on-zero in front of Kinkaid. That was the most heinous error. But there was also Nick Bonino being all alone in the middle of a make-shift 3-on-2 and beating Kinkaid after both teams traded rushes up ice. Someone didn’t make the right decision. Conor Sheary took two Devils with him to the front of the net (Travis Zajac and John Moore) and no one noticed Jake Guentzel also in the area. Guess who put home a loose puck in front? The uncovered Guentzel. While 3-on-5 situations are tough, Andy Greene’s clearing attempt was denied by Schultz and two passes later, Crosby slammed in a one-timer. Kinkaid made plenty of bailout saves when the Pens did pin back New Jersey. The Pens enjoyed an advantage in scoring chances throughout the night and so it’s why I feel I need to praise Kinkaid despite the score. All the same, this whole game was not known for its defensive play and the Devils unfortunately had the weaker performing defensive play between the two teams.
The upside is that, hey, the Devils’ offense didn’t disappear after a big night against the worst team in Pennsylvania. Kyle Palmieri opened the scoring a with a lovely finish after a lovely pass in the neutral zone by Taylor Hall that sprung Palmieri into the zone to beat Matt Murray. Palmieri quickly converted a late power play - a rebound put-back after winning the puck from Ian Cole - for his tenth goal in the last twelve games. #21 has been hot; he needs to keep being fed. Beau Bennett and Stefan Noesen scored big goals to keep the Devils in the game. Noesen’s goal was a turnaround shot to finish a turnaround pass by Pavel Zacha that quickly answered Guentzel’s goal. It was pretty. Bennett put home a rebound to finish a sequence that started with Dalton Prout making a good decision on a breakout and Jon Merrill carrying the puck through the neutral zone. That goal made it 3-4 late in the second period and kept hope alive. As a team, the Devils put up a surprising 36 shots on net; their power play improved as the game went on; and everyone contributed in spots along the way. No, it wasn’t enough to win. No, it obviously wasn’t enough to keep up with the Penguins - the banged-up Penguins, but still the Penguins. But it was more than enough for the Devils to avoid a jobbers’ fate.
I know it’s rationalization. I know it’s pulling for silver linings amid a dark cloud of a time. I know it may not be what you want to read. But at this point, I’ll take this kind of performance and result against a Cup contending team knowing what we know now about the Devils.
11 games left.
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 NHL.com Shift Charts | The Natural Stat Trick Game Stats | The HockeyStats.ca Game Stats
The Opposition Opinion: Check out PensBurgh for their take on tonight’s game.
The Worst Devils: During the game, I was pretty unhappy with the play of Prout. He took a stupid penalty that really put the Devils in a bad spot: a cross-checking minor during a delayed penalty. Killing a penalty against a power play that features Crosby, Schultz, Patric Hornqvist, Kessel, etc. is bad enough. Making it a full two man disadvantage was dumb. His turnover that led to Rowney’s goal was heinous. To think, Steve Santini was a healthy scratch for Prout tonight. Prout is slow, he doesn’t add anything on offense, and he’s not good at defending. How could Santini have been worse?
Surprising to me, Prout wasn’t even the worst in the run of play tonight. Prout did get to avoid seeing a lot of Pittsburgh’s top lines so that helped. Mistakes aside, he wasn’t beaten up the most in the run of play. No, that would be John Moore and Damon Severson. These two saw a bit over four minutes of Crosby and his line and it was a bad, bad time. Moore-Severson saw even more of Matt Cullen, Hornqvist, and Kessel. That was an even worse time. Just a whole lot of defense, scrambling around in one’s end, and hoping Kinkaid would get stops - which he did in 5-on-5 play. Moore didn’t add a whole lot on offense. Severson was more active due to his power play time, but he still had as many shots on net as Moore (1) and he took a hooking minor in Pittsburgh’s end in the third period. While Prout had the big errors, those two weren’t good over all of the game and I struggle to think of much good that they did do. I still think Santini should come in for Prout because his mistakes were rather lousy. But Moore-Severson need to be better than the doormats that they were tonight.
Sure, some of the forwards had rough nights - the Zajac line drew Crosby’s line and that wasn’t a win - but Palmieri, Hall, and Bennett produced. So that eases the pain on the statsheet and from what was seen on the ice.
Broken Wood?: Miles Wood had a very active game with four shots on net. He even a quasi-breakaway in the third period when he stole the puck from Cullen and just darted up ice and tried to beat Murray to the far left (Murray’s left) post low. He missed by a little bit as Murray got a piece of it. Unfortunately, with less than six minutes left in the game, Schultz checked Wood into the boards and the contact must have caught him somewhere. Wood slouched over in pain, skated right to the bench, and did not return. It’s unknown as of this writing what is the severity of the injury. That’s still bad news. Hopefully, he’ll be back in action soon enough.
Congratulations: While Carter Rowney’s first NHL goal will stand out - it did eventually make the difference on the scoreboard - congratulations are in order for another first. John Quenneville picked up his first NHL assist and point with a secondary assist on Stefan Noesen’s goal. Quenneville sent the puck across to Zacha after gaining the zone. While turning around, Zacha one-touched the puck towards Noesen around, who scored the goal. Congratulations to Quenneville; may he remember that play for years to come.
Other than the assist, he had a good night. The coaches kept him to about twelve minutes, but he did receive some power play shifts on the second unit. He had three shots on net to go with the assist and he was even in Corsi in 5-on-5 play. I think his audition, for lack of a better term, has gone well so far. Let’s hope it continues for a few more games.
Obvious Statement: Sidney Crosby was a nightmare for the Devils for most of the night. I don’t think any Devil had much of an answer for him. With two goals, an assist, four shots on net, and seven attempts that weren’t on net, Crosby was just a force on offense. Strangely, the only match up he didn’t do well against was the Blake Pietila (Nick Lappin, Wood) and Adam Henrique (Henrique, Bennett, Joseph Blandisi) units.
A New Kind of Jultz: Justin Schultz was astounding tonight. When he was on the ice, you couldn’t ignore him. #4 in black and gold was just making a lot happen. He made great passes on offense and into the zone. He kept pucks in play to keep Pittsburgh’s offense going. He smartly moved into open spaces for shots and unloaded eight shots on Kinkaid. I’m surprised he only ended up with one assist - a secondary on Crosby’s goal - because his play was very productive in terms of generating offense. And he was not at all slouch on defense, either. Although, his slashing foul on Hall should’ve resulted in a penalty shot. Still, this is a far cry from the maligned defense in Edmonton. Schultz was a stud for Pittsburgh tonight.
Yeah, It Should’ve Been a Penalty Shot for Hall: Ben Lovejoy - who wasn’t terrible - tapped Kessel from behind on a breakaway. It was called a slash and Kessel got a penalty shot that Kinkaid stopped. OK. Fine. Schultz’s slash was far more obvious and it disrupted Hall’s attempt. How that was not also called a penalty shot was beyond me. I get that Hynes was upset about it; but he got too upset and it wiped out the power play that the Devils could have received instead. That wasn’t smart. Regardless, that’s the sort of inconsistency from the referees that make fans think there’s something against their team and/or for their opponents. I can’t say they’re wrong on this one. Shame on Jean Hebert and Brian Pochmara for getting that situation all mixed up; either both were penalty shots or neither were since both Kessel and Hall got a shot off initially.
Why?: Kinkaid did as well as he could given the amount of rubber Pittsburgh was placing his way. Why was he starting this game after starting against Philadelphia? I think Kinkaid is being showcased, whether it’s for Vegas or other team. It’s not exactly a secret which goaltender in New Jersey will be protected in June’s expansion draft. Plus, this season is lost anyway, so there’s no harm with giving the #2 goalie some extra starts. Lastly, Philly didn’t put up a lot on Kinkaid on Thursday; it’s not like Kinkaid went from one massively busy night to another.
I do feel bad that Kinkaid was poked in the groin by Chris Kunitz, who was trying to jam a puck in and dearly missed the puck. That had to have hurt. Kinkaid did recover and remained in the game. No, I don’t know why Kunitz wasn’t given anything for that - just a minor with Jon Merrill for post-whistle shenanigans.
The Sherman Abrams Section: Mr. Sherman Abrams is pleased that the Devils did not tie it up late to pick up any additional points that would hurt the cause his namesake champions. The Devils remain in 28th for another night, which pleases him. Tonight isn’t so busy for the NHL. Florida did beat Our Hated Rivals, which keeps them to the outskirts of the Race for 28th and means they beat the Devils’ most hated rivals which is always good. Unfortunately, Dallas is getting smashed by Calgary as of this writing and Anaheim is up early on Buffalo. Maybe Buffalo can get some points to make Mr. Abrams feel good going into a busier weekend.
One Last Thought: In the final 100 seconds or so, the Devils take their time to get players on the ice before breaking out and someone (Palmieri) deciding to loft a dump-in. That wasn’t so ideal, even though the Devils retrieved the puck and Kinkaid was able to get off the ice for the extra skater. Those six skaters: Henrique, Hall, Palmieri, Zajac, Severson, and Blake Pietila. I’d like to think that would be Wood in that scenario, but he was out of action. While it is moot now - on the last attempt, Sheary forced the puck out past Severson and Crosby reaped that reward - why wasn’t Zacha or Bennett or even Noesen on the ice instead of Pietila due to the basis of having scored a goal earlier tonight? It’s those decisions, minor as it may be, that make me wonder about this coaching staff.
Your Take: The Devils lost 4-6 to a very strong (and depleted) Penguins team in their house and I’m not all that mad or bothered or upset by it. I guess that’s where I’m at with this season. What did you think of the game? Who do you think played well for the Devils? Who was the worst in your eyes? What should the Devils learn from this game as they prepare for an early Sunday afternoon game against Columbus? Please leave your answers and other thoughts about this loss in the comments.
Thanks to Brian for previewing this game, Devin for taking care of Thursday’s game over the Flyers, and you for commenting in the gamethread, following @AAtJerseyBlog on Twitter, and/or reading this site.