Finally, the New Jersey Devils have won a game on the road this season. After going winless in their last three games and having won just once in their last seven, the Devils put a 5-1 hurting on the Pittsburgh Penguins. The slide is over. The slump needs some more for it to be inthe past, but it was a great night for the Devils all the same. A lot of credit needs to go to Brian Boyle, who was the greatest hockey player in Pittsburgh tonight.
Boyle did something he has never done in his career before and something that no Devil has done in Pittsburgh since 2000: score a hat trick. What’s more is that Boyle scored a natural hat trick. All three of his goals were scored consecutively and in the second period to turn what started as a 1-1 score into a comfortable and enjoyable 4-1 lead for New Jersey. Even more impressive is that tonight was Hockey Fights Cancer Night in Pittsburgh. Boyle, who is battling leukemia, was not just a standout player for his ongoing fight; he was a standout player that led the Devils to a badly-needed victory while silencing the PPG Paints Arena.
The thing about Boyle is that his role is typical for a fourth-line player. His goal is to win some battles, win some draws, do not be a liability in 5-on-5 or special teams play, and chip in here and there. He is not fast, he is not young, and so he is sort of against the type of roster Ray Shero has been aiming for through his rebuild. But that does not mean he is unable to contribute and tonight was a great example of why. In 5-on-5 play, the Devils were even in attempts and shots when Boyle was on the ice. Along the boards, Boyle won loads of battles against Penguins as the fourth line were regularly in Pittsburgh’s end of the rink. On the penalty kill, Boyle played his role well as his exits counted and he was calm off shot blocks or in puck retrieval. While he only went 2-for-5 on faceoffs and took a hooking penalty near the end of regulation, Boyle had a solid game outside of the goals. He did his job and did it well. The goals, of course, made it a marvelous night for #11.
Those goals, of course, provided the edge for New Jersey to win tonight’s game in decisive fashion. The first was a re-direction right in front of Matt Murray of a Ben Lovejoy shot. The second was a re-direction right in front of Matt Murray of a Kyle Palmieri wrist shot to convert a power play. The third was Boyle slamming a feed from Taylor Hall on a one-timer like he was Palmieri past Murray’s glove, shortside, and within the final minute of the period. True to his character, he did not react like he won the Cup or made a big spectacle. He was definitely happy but he treated it like a good day of work - good job, onto the next shift. But it was more than a good job; it was a fantastic experience. The sort of thing that I just love about watching and thinking and writing about the Devils. That on any given night, I could see greatness. Tonight, the greatness came from Brian Boyle.
That third goal made the arena silent except for one Devils fan cheering just loud enough to be picked up by the MSG broadcast microphones. That fan had a lot to cheer for. Boyle put up a hat trick amid a great Devils performance. Unlike their last three games and most of the last three weeks, the Devils were much, much better on the puck. Their passes were better. They won more puck battles. Their keep-ins did not hamstring them or result in useless dumps that make you wish they would have taken the puck out of the zone and circle back. The Devils cleaned up a lot of looseness on defense to keep Pittsburgh from rampaging too much. The Devils sought out passes through seams to spring players and find open ones - and they hit them. Because of all of that, the Devils looked faster, they played more effectively, and they frustrated the Penguins without to resorting to any nonsense. This was a great team performance led by Boyle’s hat trick as opposed to a game won mostly by Boyle’s hat trick. That’s not a difference to ignore.
I hope the Devils have plenty left in the tank for tomorrow night in Ottawa. A result there and a good showing in Toronto and it may be safe to say the Devils are leaving their slump behind. However, tonight’s should be enjoyed, savored, and celebrated by the fans. The Devils needed a win in the worst way and got one with one of their best performances of the season.
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 Game Stats
The Opposition Opinion: Hooks Orpik has this recap up at PensBurgh of the Devils’ big win. Appropriately, he focuses on Boyle too.
The Game Highlights: From NHL.com, watch all of the sweet New Jersey goals in this game.
High Event: The Devils ended up leading this game in shots 39-36 as per Natural Stat Trick. The Devils fell just behind Pittsburgh in total attempts, 65-68. The point is that this was not a defensive affair where both teams were shutting each other down. Both sides got plenty of looks and took them throughout the night. I do not know enough about the 2018-19 Penguins as to whether that is normal for them, but that is not normal for New Jersey. What is impressive is that the Devils kept up with it throughout the night.
I would go as far as to say the Devils had the better of this high event game. The high-danger chance count at Natural Stat Trick would agree as the Devils led in it 20-10 in all situations and 17-9 in 5-on-5 play. The Devils generated multiple one-on-one opportunities with Murray. Unfortunately, the Devils did not score on any of them but they served notice to the Penguins that the game could have been even more lopsided and possibly earlier than it happened. The heatmaps in 5-on-5 and all situations show New Jersey taking plenty in front of the net. While Pittsburgh had their fair share too; Keith Kinkaid and the defense cleaned it up whereas Murray and Pittsburgh were lit up.
I would like to see the Devils not give up so many opportunities to another team. But I’ll take the Devils out-shooting and nearly out-attempting a Penguins team that features Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, Phil Kessel, Patric Hornqvist, and Kris Letang over focusing and likely failing to keep them quiet.
A Not So Fun Fact: Every New Jersey Devil skater registered at least one shot on net tonight except for, believe it or not, Kyle Palmieri. It’s OK, the Montvale man had a shot re-directed in by Boyle so he got a point out of it.
Better Than I Thought: In the first half of the game or so, I thought the Devils’ top line was the only one that was not really impressive. Taylor Hall, Nico Hischier, and Palmieri seemingly did not generate a lot on the ice. Of course, I should have told my brain to be more patient because they would definitely make more things happen. They ended up being among the best in CF% for the Devils forwards tonight. Hall did finish the night with four shots plus an assist on Boyle’s third goal; Hischier did have one strong shot turned aside; Palmieri created Boyle’s second goal; and the line kept things moving forward in the third period to help ensure there would be no Pittsburgh comeback.
A More Fun Fact: The two non-Boyle goals were notable for each scorer. The first goal of the game came from Will Butcher on a put-back from the right circle. The goal is Butcher’s first of the 2018-19 season and his first 5-on-5 point of the season as well. Butcher had a good night, which was encouraging after some rough ones. He had a three-point night with two secondary assists on Boyle’s power play goals.
The fifth goal for New Jersey was a slam dunk by Travis Zajac at the top of the crease. Less than a minute into the third period, Marcus Johansson drops the puck off for Damon Severson to go down the left sideboards. Severson found a seam to a wide open Zajac at the net - pass, shot, score. That goal was Zajac’s 171st of his career, which put him ahead of Pat Verbeek for sixth all time in goals by a Devil according to Hockey-Reference. Kirk Muller is next on the list at 185. The goal was a sweet finish to another fine game by Zajac.
My Two Favorite Non-Scoring Play That Highlights How this Game Went for NJ: In the second period, Zajac picked off a neutral zone pass and led a quick 2-on-1 rush with Miles Wood. Zajac passed it across to Wood, who fired a hard shot that Murray stopped. Wood darted in to pick up the rebound and tossed it to an oncoming Johansson for a shot. Murray stopped that and Wood again darted in to collect the rebound. Olli Maatta hooked him and was caught by the ref. This play did not score, but it showed how this line took a mistake by Pittsburgh and turned it into something very good. By the way, Boyle tipped in Palmieri’s shot seven seconds into this power play.
Later in the second period, after the Devils killed a slashing minor on Joey Anderson, Riley Sheahan was working with the puck in the right corner against Mirco Mueller. Mueller stuck with Sheahan as the Penguin tried to catch Mueller in a pick. Brett Seney was supporting Mueller by hanging back enough to see it develop but close enough to intervene. Sheahan made a move, Mueller dodged the pick, Seney came in to get the puck away, and it led to a zone exit. Those are the little plays that the Devils did tonight that they really were not doing in recent games. That was a play mostly off the puck, which is encouraging for the notion that the Devils may be turning a corner.
Comfortable Despite 36: Keith Kinkaid had a great game in net. He made some heads-up saves in the first and second period to keep the score as it was. Even in the “garbage time” of the third period, Kinkaid had an array of stops from holding pucks in close to denying Crosby on a 2-on-1 with a stellar kick save to stopping Carl Hagelin taking a free shot near the end of regulation. He faced a lot of rubber tonight and he was seemingly unflappable. Even after conceding a not-so-good slap shot goal from Jamie Oleksiak in the first period, Kinkaid carried on like it was nothing and kept the Penguins to nothing more. It was refreshing that he played well and the Devils put up a big enough score such that it was not entirely necessary. I still appreciate it. He’s earned a night off, for sure.
Another Milestone: Andy Greene played in his 800th NHL game tonight. Only seven other players appeared in more games for the Devils; according to Hockey-Reference they are Daneyko, Elias, Stevens, MacLean, Niedermayer, Zajac, and Pandolfo. It is remarkable that the undrafted signee out of Miami (of Ohio) has made it this far.
The run of play was not kind to Greene as the Devils were out-attempted the most disproportionate with him on the ice at 11-18 in 5-on-5 play. But the Devils were only out-shot 8-9, so it was not that damaging. Plus, Greene was a solid penalty killer and even had a shorthanded breakaway. His move on it was not so bad, but Murray denied him. All the same, Greene also had the unenviable match-up of Malkin, Kessel, and Hagelin - three speedsters with plenty of talent. It is notable that those three were limited to five shots on net total with Malkin only having one. It was not so bad for Greene.
Defensemen Standouts Going Forward: While Butcher got his goal, Ben Lovejoy had himself a good night. He was great at the point, he did not handle every puck like it was a grenade, he took four shots on net (yes, four on target), and one of those shots created Boyle’s first goal tonight. When he was on the ice, the Devils were usually on offense in 5-on-5 play and that is good for #12. Like Greene, he took care of business on the PK. He also took care of some of Hornqvist’s nonsense in the second period.
Sami Vatanen and Mueller were excellent on offense as well. When they were on the ice in 5-on-5 play, the Devils out-attempted Pittsburgh 24-18 and out-shot them 15-9. These two were not so much firing away as they were distributing the puck well, starting their breakouts well, and keeping pucks in play without giving up something dangerous. Sure, the Pens had a breakthrough here and there but by and large, the Devils were bringing the offense when this pairing was on the ice.
Patric “Lot” Hornqvist: Hornqvist was so frustrated with himself and how the Devils shut him down, he reacted violently towards the end of the second period. He boarded Vatanen in the left corner. As play continued, Vatanen and Hornqvist had words and Hornqvist cross-checked him high. Not quite in the face, but around the collarbone it seemed. It was reckless and stupid of Hornqvist. Meanwhile, Mueller and Crosby were tangled up and the two started coming to blows along the left sideboards. Jack Johnson flew in and jumped Mueller for some free shots at the defenseman. Letang and Wood also had a lot of verbals spit at each other, but they were kept apart. The Penguins were losing 3-1, they could not solve Kinkaid, they could not do what Tampa Bay, Detroit, or the Isles (who the Pens lost two games to last week) did to the Devils, and they were bothered that the Devils were keeping up in a game all about the offense. So they went nasty.
I credit the Devils for not responding. I agreed 100% with Daneyko on the broadcast that it was not the time to take any revenge or show any force. Hornqvist was salty because he absolutely sucked tonight. In retrospect, I’m glad Vatanen did not try to escalate the situation or that another Devils swooped in like Johnson to clinch Hornqvist from behind and lay down some punches.
What I do not understand is how Crosby got away with no penalty out of all of this. Hornqvist did. Johnson, thankfully, did for being a third-man in. I could understand Mueller getting one for the punches he threw. But Crosby and his punches were left unpunished. Fortunately, Boyle scored on a one-timer later for his hat trick for the best kind of justice.
By the Way: Pittsburgh has Crosby, Malkin, Kessel, Hornqvist, and others and somehow Letang led the team in total shots (7) and attempts (12). That does not seem right. Well, it was right for New Jersey at least.
Playing with a Point to Prove: Jean-Sebastien Dea was placed on waivers in late September by Pittsburgh. The Devils picked him up. This was Dea’s first game in Pittsburgh since the transaction. He played like he wanted to make the Penguins regret that decision. He had two one-on-one situations where he was denied. He was buzzing on the forecheck. While he is not nearly as big and strong as Boyle, he was getting into battles for the puck and coming out ahead in those tougher areas of the rink. Dea hustled all night long and the Devils were better for it. With Dea on the ice, the Devils out-attempted Pittsburgh 14-9 and out-shot them 9-6. All this and his first assist as a Devil on Butcher’s goal and his second assist as a Devil on Boyle’s first goal of the night. For a fourth liner, that’s rather good. The only downer to Dea’s game was going 3-for-10 on draws, but that did not matter tonight. I liked what I saw out of Dea tonight and I hope he builds on that for tomorrow.
Keep Them In: Brett Seney and Joey Anderson both played tonight and they had their moments. Severson hooked them up with a great opportunity in the second period that nearly ended with Anderson’s first NHL goal. It was still a big night for the youngster as he had the primary assist on Butcher’s goal. Seney was not as positive, but he held his own as he received more minutes as the game was out of doubt in the third period. I liked this performance more than his first game. I’d like to see these two stay with New Jersey for a bit longer. I hope to see them both tomorrow.
Chased: The Devils chased Murray after the second intermission. Casey DeSmith was scored on his first shot against; Zajac’s goal in front of the net. Ha.
Special Teams Were Great Too: Special teams were big for New Jersey tonight. Boyle’s second and third goals were power play goals and they were scored quickly on their power plays. The only bad power play for New Jersey tonight was their fourth one in the third period, but the Devils were already up 5-1 so killing two minutes was fine provided they did not give up a shorty (and they did not). As for the penalty kill, the Devils kept the Pens to five shots total on their three power plays and Kinkaid did not have to stand on his head for the kill to succeed. This was one more aspect where the Devils excelled on their way to a decisive, winless-streak ending victory.
One Last Thought: I did not mention every single Devil but I thought everyone played at least well tonight. The line of Zajac, Wood, and Johansson had some great moments and were responsible for a goal. Blake Coleman did well and even created a one-on-one with Murray in the second period. Even Drew Stafford had some good shifts. I do not think any Devil had a bad game.
Your Take: The Devils won 5-1 in Pittsburgh and Boyle led this win with a natural hat trick. Tonight was great. Tomorrow, the Devils will play in the land of controversies, Ottawa. I hope they have saved some of this for the Sens. A back-to-back set of wins would go a long way for the Devils to get back on track. In the meantime, I want to know what you thought about this game. Who impressed you the most tonight? What was your favorite play of the game? Who stood out in your opinion? What can the Devils take away from this game that they should apply for tomorrow’s game and future games? Please leave your answers and other thoughts about this big win in the comments.
Thanks to Chris for the game preview. Thanks to Mike for running the @AAtJerseyBlog account on Twitter. Thanks to everyone who commented in the Gamethread. Thank you for reading.