First Period: Mirco Mueller avoided getting called for a penalty a bit less than five minutes into the game, when he crosschecked Patric Hornqvist in the back in front of the Devils net after Keith Kinkaid stopped a redirection chance by Hornqvist, who was all alone. Perhaps if Mueller was in the right place originally, he would not have had to do something stupid to remind the Penguins that he exists.
The first penalty of the game came seven minutes and 51 seconds into the game when Steven Santini took a minor for delay of game. A one-time shot for Phil Kessel with just under a minute of his team’s power play remaining missed an empty net, not too far out. Ken Daneyko noted on the MSG+ broadcast that he thought Mirco Mueller might have gotten a stick on the shot. On the replay, that was confirmed. With that chance for naught, the Penguins did not score on their power play.
The Devils broke the ice with six minutes and 52 seconds left in the game when Miles Wood slid the puck from the corner area to Travis Zajac, who was skating towards the net through the circle. With Blake Coleman in front providing traffic, Zajac’s wrist shot went high on Matt Murray and Zajac had his 12th of the year. The secondary assist went to Steven Santini.
Damon Severson quickly extended the lead to two with just over five minutes remaining when he took a quick wrist shot from beyond the circles on the rush that went under Matt Murray’s glove. This was his seventh goal of the year. The assists went to Blake Coleman and Travis Zajac.
The Devils were called for a too many men on the ice penalty with four minutes and seven seconds remaining in the period, when there were seven men on the ice during a line change. Brett Seney served the penalty. This penalty kill for the Devils was successful, with Keith Kinakid making a couple stops and the Devils penalty killers getting a few clears.
Second Period: Sami Vatanen took a penalty for holding the stick of Jake Guentzel’s stick two minutes and 26 seconds into the period. This penalty kill started even better than the previous two, as the Devils kept pushing the Penguins back. As the fans got restless, Pavel Zacha stripped the puck from Evgeny Malkin, backhanding it with one hand across the crease to Brian Boyle for a shorthanded goal. That was Boyle’s 13th goal of the year, and Pavel Zacha’s first shorthanded assist of the year (third point), as well as Boyle’s first shorthanded goal (second point). However, it did not end amazingly. As the penalty expired, Derek Brassard got a clean shot that went past Kinkaid - and it was an even strength goal, as Sami Vatanen had just emerged from the box.
Sidney Crosby took a penalty for hooking Brett Seney in the neutral zone. Not much happened. The Devils had a couple of turnovers, and the Penguins were able to kill a lot of the time pushing them back into their own zone.
Mirco Mueller took a hooking penalty in front of Keith Kinkaid. As Malkin tried to take the puck bt the net, Mueller caught him with the stick. At the start of the kill, Sami Vatanen cleared the puck off the draw, and upon the Penguins’ re-entry, Andy Greene cleared the puck as well, followed by a third clear in the first minute by Blake Coleman. The Penguins finally sent up with just over a minute remaining, playing catch with the puck before Kris Letang took a slap shot that was blocked in front. Malkin got a shot on net with about 20 seconds left in the kill, which was saved by Kinkaid, and the Devils survived the penalty.
The Devils got their lead to three, when Travis Zajac took it into the zone, hit the puck off Brian Dumoulin’s skate, and did a spinning pass to Blake Coleman for a one-timer that went high past Murray. That was Blake Coleman’s 18th goal of the season. Will Butcher got the secondary assist.
Matt Cullen was called for hooking Brian Boyle by the boards. With just over four minutes left in the period, the Devils were back to the power play. Keith Kinkaid nearly passed right to Riley Sheahan from behind the net, which lead to quite a bit of power play time being killed off by a lack of puck control by the Devils. Upon entry by the Devils, the puck was cleared by Bryan Rust.
It was another good period by the Devils, but they could have done much better on their power plays. Simply getting shots on net would have been good, but the Devils were mostly going backwards on their man advantages, never getting any sustained pressure in the offensive zone during those opportunities.
Third Period: The Penguins came out of the gate pushing much harder than they had been in the first two periods. The first quarter of the third was mostly played in the Devils zone, with the Devils trying to get their bodies in front of shots and Keith Kinkaid looking very solid in goal. Miles Wood took a holding call with 15 minutes and four seconds left in the game, as the Devils were finally about to get the puck in the offensive zone. However, the Devils again killed the penalty.
But the Penguins would not let up. Keith Kinkaid had to make stop after stop at even strength. The Devils finally got their first potential opportunity with just over 11 minutes in the game. Miles Wood skated the puck into the zone, as Blake Coleman drove the defender to the net. Wood passed back to Andy Greene, who sent a wrist shot at the net as he skated towards the net.
Derek Brassard sent Sami Vatanen into the boards with 10 minutes and 48 seconds remaining, getting a five minute misconduct for elbowing. The hit gave Vatanen a bloody gash on his forehead, as his visor went up on his head.
The Devils power play was, again, less than stellar for the first two minutes. However, once Marcus Johansson got the puck in the neutral zone, and was able to enter the zone for the Devils, they were able to set up. Damon Severson passed the puck into the corner back to Johansson, who gave the puck to Travis Zajac above the goal line, who sent the puck across the crease for Kyle Palmieri, who roofed it halfway through the power play.
However, Matt Cullen answered back, due to the combined negligence of Keith Kinkaid and Damon Severson behind the net. As Kinkaid was playing the puck, he gently slid it for Severson, who was not moving quickly enough to hold off the 42 year old as he went around the net and fired a wrist shot past the recovering Kinkaid.
The greatest scoresheet entry of the season came with less than a minute in the power play. Drew Stafford got the puck quickly out of the corner before the Penguins could clear it, getting it to Andy Greene, who has seen very little power play time this season. Greene saw an open man in Pavel Zacha, who got his eighth goal of the season. While the initial call only gave Grene an assist, I thought Drew Stafford could have been given the secondary.
Bryan Rust was allowed to get in alone with Keith Kinkaid, getting behind Will Butcher, with two minutes remaining. Rust went backhand, getting his 12th goal of the season to make the score 6-3. That was the score that the game finished with.
The Opposition Opinion: Check out PensBurgh for their recap.
Get Well, Sami Vatanen: Prior to his injury, Sami Vatanen was playing decently well, posting a possession rate that sat above breaking even and contributing to the Devils penalty kill. Then, he took this hit from Derek Brassard.
The Pittsburgh broadcast complained that it was just a stiff shoulder, and Brassard should not have been called for the elbow. While I don’t think that it matters, and it was a hit from behind on a defenseless player into the boards anyway, here’s an angle that shows Brassard already throwing the elbow out before making contact with his shoulder. It wasn’t very far out when he made contact with Vatanen, but it wasn’t tucked in.
Alternate angle of Brassard's ejection. pic.twitter.com/aGRZk0P4Mb— geoff bozo (@G_Off817) January 29, 2019
Regardless, I just have to hope that the team has Sami Vatanen for the rest of the season. Especially with the concussion that he got due to the dangerous check by Nikita Kucherov during the playoffs - within the past year - it would not be good for Vatanen to get another major brain injury.
Travis Zajac and Blake Coleman Own the Pittsburgh Penguins: Ever since the Travis ‘n’ Texans line debuted in their first full game together last season against the Penguins, these two players continued their pattern of extremely hot play against Sidney Crosby and Pittsburgh, albeit without the other Texan. In 9:51 seconds of even strength play tonight, Blake Coleman, Travis Zajac, and Miles Wood had a 63.16 Corsi For percentage, with the Devils getting all three of their even strength goals with this line on the ice (Zajac, Severson, Coleman). Two of those goals came with Kris Letang on the ice, whom the Zajac line had a 75.00 CF% against. With how amazing Letang has been at even strength this season, this is no small feat. And when they were not scoring goals, they were shutting down Sindey Crosby - and they were the only line able to do so. Sidney Crosby, in five minutes against the line, had a 0.00 CF%. Zajac played slightly more against Crosby than his linemates, being on the ice for a couple more attempts against the Penguins. Without Zajac on the ice, Crosby’s 0.00 CF% became 83.33.
Travis Zajac, with four points, broke 30 points (31) in his 48th game of the year. Assuming he played every remaining game of the year at his current pace, he would have over 50 points at the end of the season. He is the fourth Devil to surpass the 30 mark on the season. Blake Coleman is right behind him, as his two points brought him to a total of 29 on the season.
A Good Game for the Captain: Andy Greene played 23:01 tonight, leading the team in ice time. This including 8:32 of shorthanded time, where the Devils largely did well tonight. And when the Devils needed a defenseman on the power play during the misconduct power play due to the loss of Vatanen, John Hynes did not turn to Mirco Mueller, who only played 16:26 in the game and 2:16 of that being shorthanded. He gave Andy Greene nearly a whole minute on the power play, and the captain got his second power play point of the season. Despite getting top pairing minutes, Greene seemed to benefit from the break, being the top left-pairing defenseman in possession tonight. This is, of course, despite getting no offensive zone starts at even strength (as well as the Zajac line and Damon Severson).
Kinkaid’s Stand: Keith Kinkaid has been named as a potential trade subject for the upcoming deadline. The Devils might not know what they should do with their goaltending situation, with Cory Schneider not doing well in his conditioning stint in Binghamton, and MacKenzie Blackwood playing very well at the NHL level. Coming off the break, Kinkaid had to (and will continue to have to) show that he will not go out with a whimper. He did not disappoint tonight, stopping 37 of 40 shots for a very respectable .925 save percentage on the night. While one of the goals was somewhat his fault (Cullen), I don’t very much blame him for the other two goals, as Butcher was a mere cone for Rust to skate around, and the first goal he gave up was with only four men defending the Penguins in front of him, as Vatanen was not far out of the box. Whether good play means he’s more likely to be traded or to stay on as the Devils goaltender remains to be seen and is reliant upon the Devils’ record at the end of February, so let’s hope he can keep this up regardless.
Your Take: What did you make of this game? What did you think of the hit by Derek Brassard that got him ejected form the game? What should the Devils do if Sami Vatanen is out with injury? What should the Devils do with Schneider when his conditioning stint ends? What did you hate most about our power play? What did you think of Pavel Zacha’s multi-point game? Can the Devils start a hot streak? Leave your thoughts in the comments below.
That does it for tonight’s recap. Thanks to Brian for the preview this morning. Whether you followed in the gamethread, or on Twitter @AATJerseyBlog, thank you for reading. This is Chris - goodnight.