The Penguins got the puck into their offensive zone right after the opening faceoff, with the team pushing the envelope early. However, the Devils defense responded well and they maintained control for much of the first minute. For the following few minutes, both teams traded chance-less possessions and generated very little offense.
Marian Studenic displayed some much needed strength and effort, as the fourth line got the puck into the neutral zone following a defensive zone faceoff. Despite the fact he was being hauled down by a Penguin already on the ice, Studenic got the puck ahead to Fredrik Gauthier. Prior to McLeod making the breakout pass to Studenic, Gauthier had gone to one knee to block a centering attempt from behind the net, which led to the Devils taking possession. This resulted in an offensive zone faceoff for the Devils after Damon Severson took a shot into a partial screen that was smothered by Jarry.
The Penguins had a great three-on-two rush chance that led to a one-timer from the circle by Jake Guentzel with around 12 and a half minutes to play. The puck, however, went to the side of the net.
Jimmy Vesey and Michael McLeod created a turnover while chasing the Penguins back into their defensive zone. Vesey worked the puck to McLeod, whose weak shot appeared to be hunting for a deflection - but it was too low to the crease to matter, as Jarry covered it easily.
After Juuso Riikola drove around Yegor Sharangovich, Ryan Graves failed to defend him attacking the net, as Riikola evaded Graves’ sweeping poke check, forcing Bernier to make a save off a centering pass from Riikola. The puck was loose in a scramble after being hacked at by Zach Aston-Reese, before getting out to Danton Heinen, who buried the puck during a scramble to make it an 0-1 game for the Penguins.
Michael McLeod took a holding call with 4:16 to play, chasing Teddy Blueger toward the corner of the defensive zone. Off the faceoff, Jimmy Vesey cleared the puck. The Devils shuffled forwards in the first minute, with Gauthier, Hischier, and Sharangovich changing on and off as well. Freddy Gauthier made another clear right after the end of the first minute. Marian Studenic made an appearance towards the end of the kill, challenging the point - but a shot made it through and forced Bernier to dive ahead in an attempt to cover the puck, but it was thrown to the corner before the Devils were able to kill the penalty with another clear of the puck.
Pavel Zacha sprung Nico Hischier for a partial breakaway, and Hischier’s high backhand was fought off by Jarry with a bit over a minute and a half to play. The Devils later iced the puck with 1:03 to play.
The Mercer line put on a promising display of puck movement and luck, as Jesper Bratt drove the net while protecting the puck, drawing two Penguins wide. The puck got over to Andreas Johnsson, who went for a redirection from Dawson Mercer. The puck cleanly beat Tristan Jarry, as it also appeared to deflect off Evan Rodrigues’ skate - and Johnsson was initially credited the goal to tie the game at 1-1. As you can see in the replay, Bratt had drawn both defensemen below the goal line at the time of the deflection.
Dougie Hamilton was credited the secondary assist, and the game went into the first intermission at one goal apiece. You can see his work here, as he did a short give and go with Andreas Johnsson off a hard pass from Ryan Graves to spring through the neutral zone, before passing to Bratt.
"Siri, please show me how to be an elite transition defenseman in the NHL and earn a very large contract ..." pic.twitter.com/1rDopDI2sv— Corey Masisak (@cmasisak22) October 30, 2021
The Penguins had the Devils hemmed in for quite awhile early on, as the Mercer line was stuck in its own end as the Penguins hunted for deflections. However, they did not cede any dangerous chances, and the Devils were able to
Michael McLeod blocked a shot up high, creating a breakaway for himself a bit more than three minutes in. He put ona flurry of moves, but ran out of room as his backhand went wide. On the following shift, Nico Hischier had a shot on the rush that trickled through, but wide of the net. After play quickly went back and forth, Pavel Zacha sprung Tomas Tatar with a long stretch pass - but Tatar was challenged from behind as he was forced to try to backhand a shot that went wide, before falling to the ice.
Jimmy Vesey won the puck out of the corner with 13 minutes to play, fighting Doumolin off and firing a pass to Michael McLeod, who skated in on Jarry and ripped a wrist shot that was covered. McLeod was all alone, and he seemed to be closer to scoring that time than on his breakaway. Dougie Hamilton later had a chance to score off a pass to the side of Jarry, but his shot was flubbed and it slid into the post before Riikola played it away.
Brock McGinn hit Pavel Zacha’s helmet with an inadvetent high stick with 10:50 to play, giving the Devils a power play. Tatar’s centering pass from behind the net went through Hischier early, forcing the Devils to try to regain the zone before being called for icing 26 seconds into the power play, as they missed with a pass.
Zach Aston-Reese had a one-on-one opportunity with Pavel Zacha rushing back, but Zacha fought off Aston-Reese’s move with his skate and pushed play forward again - but the Penguins cleared twice more. After the penalty ended, Yegor Sharangovich danced into the offensive zone during a line change and ripped a shot off the crossbar and out of play.
The Mercer line had some more opportunities with under six minutes to play, as Dawson Mercer batted a puck down and played it down ice. Bratt, ahead of the defense, negated the icing and centered the puck from the corner, just missing Johnsson but picking up a cutting P.K. Subban, who almost beat Jarry from the edge of the faceoff circle by the slot. They did not allow the Penguins to clear the zone, before a Subban shot deflected out of play.
Tomas Tatar went to the penalty box for tripping with 2:24 to play in the period, as he got Danton Heinen while trying to make a play in the defensive zone during the Penguins’ zone entry. Bernier saved a shot by Kapanen early, and Jimmy Vesey created a breakaway for himself right after. He poked a weak pass to the point into the neutral zone, and he put on a nice display of speed as he created enough space to score through Jarry’s five hole on the kill! 2-1, Devils.
Late in the kill, Bernier made a kick save on Heinen on the rush, but it went right out to Riikola. However, the shot went wide and the Devils survived longer. The Penguins had a flurry of chances at the end of the kill and right after before Bernier froze play with the Penguins bearing down on him in a dogpile.
The Devils went into the second intermission with a one-goal lead after Jimmy Vesey’s shorthanded beauty.
The Devils coughed up the lead early in the third, as the Devils broke down in transition after a rush shot by Kuokkanen was gloved low by Jarry on the offensive end. Smith and Severson crashed the boards as Teddy Blueger passed to a wide open Brock McGinn to tie the game at 2-2, with Freddy Gauthier trailing. Smith applied the unnecessary pressure, as Severson was already taking Blueger out of the play.
Andreas Johnsson was given a goaltender interference call as he was checked into Tristan Jarry by Chad Ruhweedl with 17:28 to play in the game. It was a terrible call. Severson floated the puck out of the zone to start the kill, before Ryan Graves deflected a puck out of play upon Pittsburgh’s reentry 13 seconds in.
The Penguins had the Devils on their heels with their puck movement, as Freddy Gauthier had to give Ryan Graves his stick, and Sidney Crosby beat them with a pass across. Guentzel had the net, but Bernier sprawled out for the glove save to keep the game tied.
Jonathan rejects your preconceived notions of how your power play should work. pic.twitter.com/Y7ifZM5I77— New Jersey Devils (@NJDevils) October 31, 2021
Jimmy Vesey had another chance shorthanded, as the puck got loose into the neutral zone following his read of a pass by Sidney Crosby. However, he had two Penguins to contend with and shot on Jarry, who deflected it away. Vesey forced Jarry to cover after prolonging play. The Devils managed to survive the penalty, and Danton Heinen barely missed with a shot soon after it expired, as he was alone in front. Damon Severson made a huge block before the Devils cleared without an icing.
Sidney Crosby had a chance to take the lead as the Devils broke down in front of Bernier following an icing. Bernier stayed strong as the Devils could barely defend, smothering a wide-angle followup.
P.K. Subban took a stupid high sticking minor with 13:06 to play, getting Jake Guentzel with a downward motion in the visor in the defensive zone right before the Devils got out of the zone. Bernier made a save early on, deflecting a puck high before he was knocked into the net while Guentzel knocked the puck down with a high stick. Yegor Sharangovich took a wrist shot that went wide on a one-on-one chance. Jonathan Bernier made an amazing left-to-right save on Kapanen soon after, as he had a clean one-timer all alone. Dougie Hamilton made a perfectly timed breakup as the Penguins would have had an empty net with Crosby and Guentzel looming down low, and the Devils made it a four-for-four night.
Tomas Tatar almost gave the Devils the lead with under seven minutes to play, as he sent a backhand flip from near the goal line in the corner and beat Jarry over the shoulder. The crossbar stood between him and his first goal of the season, and the Penguins seemed to skate a bit slower for awhile after that.
The Devils got a power play with 5:25 to play, as Janne Kuokkanen shrugged off a check in the corner before playing it to Michael McLeod. As McLeod drove the net, he was held from behind and the Penguins were called for the penalty. Jake Guentzel went to the box for hooking.
On the power play, an initial shot by Hamilton was redirected wide, and the Devils had to recollect after a pass missed the target and was pushed out of the zone. Aside from a near redirection chance for Hischier from Zacha, they continually failed to establish possession before the second wave came on in the second minute. A clearing attempt by the Penguins went off the glass and out, giving them an offensive zone faceoff with 36 seconds in the power play. A shot by Smith didn’t get to the target, and the Penguins cleared. Subban took another shot for a redirection at the end of the power play, but Jarry made the save on Subban’s shot. After the penalty expired, Subban took a slap shot from the point that was smothered.
Jesper Bratt was taken down from behind by Sidney Crosby on the breakaway after Dawson Mercer beat Riikola with a flip pass. Bratt was hurt on the play as he crashed into Jarry, and Crosby was livid about the call. Yet, Bratt came out to take the shot. He drove wide, and pulled off his usual forehand to backhand move as he dipped in and out of the slot. His backhand beat Jarry to make it a 3-2 game with three minutes to play!
Looks like Bratt dressed up as a game-winner for Halloween. pic.twitter.com/NoRvnp1UgH— New Jersey Devils (@NJDevils) October 31, 2021
With two minutes and 20 seconds to play, Tomas Tatar lost the puck in the croner, but he took it away off a deflected pass. The Devils turned play around, but Zacha lost the handle off a pass from Hamilton. Tristan Jarry came out of the net as the Penguins took possession, but Andreas Johnsson made an excellent play as he lurked behind the Penguins, whose initial entry attempt was poked a bit into the neutral zone. He went wide around the Penguins, and scored into the empty net before Jarry could even get off. P.K. Subban was given the assist on the entry breakup. While the Devils did not post video of this goal, here is Tristan Jarry trying to defend Andreas Johnsson.
Jarry came back off with a minute to play. Nico Hischier and Jimmy Vesey pushed the puck to the neutral zone, and the Penguins took a shot that went wide from the point on reentry. The Devils were then called for too many men on the ice with 40 seconds to play, as too many went on during the line change.
The Devils penalty kill featured Nico Hischier, Jimmy Vesey, Ryan Graves, and Damon Severson. Nico lost the draw, and the Devils blocked a one-timer. The Devils were able to get the puck out of the zone for a moment before the Penguins reentered with 20 seconds to play. Graves sent the puck down the ice with several seconds to play, sealing the win for the Devils.
The Opposition Opinion: Over at Pensburgh, they’ll have a recap.
Shutting Crosby Down
Without Jack Hughes, Lindy Ruff turned to two primary matchups tonight: Nico Hischier played mostly against Sidney Crosby while Freddy Gauthier and the fourth line handled Jeff Carter (to the tune of a 66.67 CF% in 6:58). While the first line did not score any goals tonight, they did their job at keeping the chances from Sidney Crosby to a minimum.
If you were wondering who would inherit Zajac role of shutting down Crosby, wonder no more.— CJ Turtoro (@CJTDevil) October 31, 2021
Of Crosby's 13 minutes 7:21 were against Nico Hischier. The Devils controlled 67% of the shot attempts in those minutes. Neither team scored.
The Devils and Penguins only totaled four shots each with their top lines matching up, giving Jonathan Bernier some breathing room when Crosby was on the ice (for the most part). Also, in just over a minute of play, the Mercer line had two goals with Crosby on - the initial goal by Johnsson off the great play by Bratt, and the empty netter following the nice defensive play by Subban. Bratt also drew the penalty shot from Crosby to win the game. However, Hischier handled the more tense moments of the game where his and Crosby’s lines traded possessions. Zero points for Crosby on any night is a great thing, and the Mercer line was fantastic at follwing up the first line’s strong defense with decisive offense.
Jonathan Bernier Saved the Third
While the Devils were very strong in the first two periods, they opened up for much of the beginning of the third period. Bernier made 16 saves on 17 shots in the third period, while saving 33 of 35 total. In all situations, Bernier had an expected goals against of 2.80, saving six of eight high-danger shots, while contending with two rush shots and four rebound shots according to Natural Stat Trick.
Bernier was great tonight because he maintained excellent position. Even as the Penguins threatened on the power play, and when the Devils defense broke down at times in the third, Bernier moved around the net excellently and was never caught off guard by any chances. This should put some Devils fans at ease, as Scott Wedgewood is not particularly mobile in net and likely would have had a rougher time dealing with Pittsburgh’s cross-ice passing plays. Having half of the primary tandem back was huge for the Devils tonight.
Jesper Bratt Arrived When the Devils Needed it Most
Tonight, Jesper Bratt was on his A-game. And if he did not have a game like this, I cannot imagine how many people would have been making bold claims such as him only being a bottom six winger, or someone the Devils should move on from. The takes have gotten ridiculous, from my perspective. Bratt was at his best in terms of being a dynamic transition player, giving the Devils possessions with his skating ability, drawing defenders to him, drawing the penalty shot, and making excellent passes throughout the game. The Mercer line was the most effective offensively, and two of the three goals they created (including the penalty shot) had Bratt at the forefront of the play. Drawing defenders below the net prior to the first goal, Bratt forced Evan Rodrigues to play defender on Mercer, putting Rodrigues in position to deflect Johnsson’s pass to Mercer into the net. On the second, he cleanly got past Sidney Crosby on the rush, getting enough ahead for the referee to determine it was enough unopposed space between him and Jarry to call a penalty shot. So yeah, Alex was right.
Andreas Johnsson and Jesper Bratt have a history of being good on the same line together. If you recall, they were Jack Hughes’ wingers for a spell last season, in which they outscored opposition four-to-one in 89:55, sporting a 63.29 CF% and 62.92 xGF%. Bratt also had a 66.25 CF% and 61.15 xGF% in 38:27 with Johnsson without Hughes last season. So, if Jesper Bratt is not on a line with Nico Hischier and Pavel Zacha, he may have found a connection with his fellow Swede in Johnsson.
Dawson Mercer also deserves credit for his play on that line. He played with a will of steel, prolonging offensive zone time on multiple shifts when possibly any other Devils player would have cleanly lost puck battles. Mercer can make plays out of situations where it appears the opposition is in clear control, and that pressure is perfect for the skill Bratt and Johnsson provide.
Jimmy Vesey Continues to Impress
Especially on the penalty kill, Jimmy Vesey had a very good game for the New Jersey Devils tonight. He was reading passes very well, creating his breakaway goal and the later chance he had on Jarry. He mixed precise reads with occasional aggressive challenging on the penalty kill, especially as the game reached its later stages. Not only is this a good sign for the penalty kill, seeing as they looked less passive and more proactive - but Vesey continues to make good on the chance he has with the Devils. I think this is the best hockey I have ever seen Vesey play, as he brings a much more rounded and defensively sound game than I remember him having as a Ranger. With this on top of his skill and physical fortitude, he is an ideal third line winger. You could really see him go for it this game - he led the Devils with six shots and a 0.5 ixG in all situations, with 0.38 ixG in 3:55 while shorthanded. On the power play, the Penguins were led by Jeff Carter’s 0.16 ixG in 5:33.
Dougie Rebounding With Authority
After having a rough few past games, Dougie Hamilton played excellent hockey for the Devils tonight. He got on the stat sheet with a secondary assist, but made important, game-saving plays throughout on the defensive side. The Devils outshot the Penguins seven to three with Hamilton and Crosby on the ice (in 5:49), while Hamilton led the Devils in CF% at 68.57. In 17:36 of five-on-five play, the Devils outshot the Penguins 17-9 with Hamilton with a 63.63 xGF%. The only goal against, by Heinen, could have been prevented by better defense from Yegor Sharangovich high in the zone, or by Ryan Graves down low. The scramble was not created on Hamilton’s side, so I will look past that goal and instead focus on plays like when he swept away a pass from Guentzel to Crosby on the power play that would have given the Penguins a lead.
Playing Hamilton so much at even strength is something the Devils are going to need to continue doing moving forward. This allows P.K. Subban to receive fewer, more manageable minutes - and Hamilton thrived under pressure tonight. There are not many examples of Devils defensemen playing with the poise by the net that Hamilton had tonight (Greene might be the only of the past 10 years), and to go along with Hamilton’s puck skills...this was a very fun game to watch Dougie play.
This was a fantastic team performance by the Devils, and it is great to see them with some confidence. I thought just about the whole team contributed to this win, with the fourth line holding up against Carter to follow up Nico Hischier’s shutdown performance against Sidney Crosby. This left the offense to the Mercer line and Jimmy Vesey, who handled those duties to perfection. With the exception of some Smith-Severson struggles, the defense looked more cohesive, and Jonathan Bernier was able to gift them some saves in the third. This was a fun one to watch, with a very satisfying end.
What did you think of tonight’s game? Were you expecting a win? How about that late winner by Jesper Bratt? Did you even think he was going to come back out to take the shot? How do you feel about the current Devils bottom six? How do you think they did? What did you think of Ty Smith tonight? Did his defensive miscue on the tying goal concern you? What will it take for Yegor Sharangovich to score a goal? Leave your thoughts in the comments below.
As always, thanks for reading. Whether you followed in the gamethread, or on Twitter @AATJerseyBlog, have a good night.