MacKenzie Blackwood was a late scratch, in addition to Pavel Zacha being out for the Devils. Zacha left the morning skate early, and Blackwood was pulled after taking part in pre-game warmups. Scott Wedgewood thus got the start, and Aaron Dell was the backup.
Blackwood's scratch is not COVID related, per the Devils.— Chris Ryan (@ChrisRyan_NJ) March 18, 2021
The Zajac line started the game for the New Jersey Devils, matching up against the Crosby line for the Pittsburgh Penguins. Sidney Crosby won the draw, and the Penguins started their possession in their offensive zone. However, Devils mustered a counterattack, and Yegor Sharangovich shot high on Tristan Jarry, forcing a save. On the following shift, Kyle Palmieri stripped the puck away from Evan Rodrigues in the Devils’ offensive zone, and his shot was gloved by Jarry.
Evan Rodrigues later got a one-timer attempt on the rush, off a pass from Kasperi Kapanen. Rodrigues’ wide-open chance went wide of the net, and there was no defenseman back to make it difficult for him. He just didn’t have the angle on Wedgewood.
The Devils and Penguins traded offensive possessions, each being forced to the peripheries of their offensive zone. The Hughes line was hemmed in for the Devils, and then the Maltsev line fired away shots on the Penguins, creating some chaos in front of the net. Nikita Gusev then came on had the best chance of either team, cutting around defenders and in tight on Jarry, who was able to snuff out Gusev’s shot.
The Zajac line then had an excellent shift, cycling in the corner and opening up ice for shots close to Jarry’s net. Travis Zajac set Yegor Sharangovich up for a shot all alone to the side of the net, and Sami Vatanen’s rebound gave Janne Kuokkanen a chance to chip away in front. After a stoppage, Jack Hughes eluded an oncoming John Marino, skating around the low offensive zone for a sharp angle shot that got past Jarry to give the Devils a 1-0 lead. It was an excellent play and shot from Hughes - and the Devils needed it with Zacha out of the lineup. Ty Smith and Kyle Palmieri got assists on the goal.
Bar down, baby.— New Jersey Devils (@NJDevils) March 18, 2021
: Palmieri pic.twitter.com/YuI76k1o7H
The Zajac line went back to work, but lost possession as they tried to get up in the corner of the offensive zone. Scott Wedgewood then made a stop on Mike Matheson, who was all alone for a one-touch wrist shot after P.K. Subban failed to take Zach Aston-Reese out of the play, and Damon Severson was unable to stop the pass across.
Dmitry Kulikov took a minor penalty for clearing the puck over the glass with just over four minutes to play in the period. So he was called for delay of game. The Devils sent out Travis Zajac, Yegor Sharangovich, Damon Severson, and Sami Vatanen for the kill. Crosby won the draw against Sharangovich took it for Zajac, who was tossed out. The Penguins lost the zone and had to regain it, and then the Devils took the puck the other way. Sharangovich got a shot, and then played it back to the defensemen, who cleared back down the ice. McLeod and Bastian took the ice, and Murray and Subban came on as well. They did well to keep the Penguins at bay, and Wedgewood made a final glove save with Zajac and Sharangovich on with one second left in the kill.
The Devils went into the intermission up 1-0, winning the shots battle 12-8 through 20 minutes. Through one period, Travis Zajac’s line was outshooting the Penguins five to one in 5:09 played, as they allowed just one shot against in 4:21 matched up against Sidney Crosby. Crosby was held to a 25.00 CF% by the Devils in 5:57 of ice time. Meanwhile, the Wood-Maltsev-Bastian line had a 4.74 xGF% in 3:55 played together, as they allowed three scoring chances to the line of Sam Lafferty, Mark Jankowski, and Zach Aston-Reese.
The Penguins pressured early, with Sidney Crosby getting a backhand shot off on Wedgewood, which was saved. After the Devils had an offensive shift of their own, the Penguins tried to create pressure low after a point shot, chipping away at a rebound off the end boards.
With the Maltsev line on, the Devils almost scored as Miles Wood put the rebound of Maltsev’s shot wide. On the play, Nathan Bastian appeared to be injured. The Penguins then came down the ice, and Wedgewood had to make a glove save on a streaking Mike Matheson.
#NJDevils Nate Bastian just got hit hard and labored off the ice.— Amanda Stein (@amandacstein) March 19, 2021
He goes straight down the tunnel with a trainer.
The Penguins had a mad scramble for the puck in Scott Wedgewood’s crease under eight minutes into the period. With multiple Penguins and three Devils in the crease, Wedgewood just sprawled across the goal line to keep the puck out. Play was eventually blown dead when the referee lost sight of the puck.
On the following shift, Bryan Rust went off for two minutes for holding Dmitry Kulikov behind the Devils’ net. The Devils took the ice on the power play, with Wood, Bratt, Zajac, Hughes, and Subban. The Devils set up high, and Jack Hughes crossed over with Subban a couple times before Jesper Bratt set Subban up for a one-timer. The shot was low, and got past Miles Wood in front, who prevented Jarry from making the save. 2-0, Devils.
The Devils kept up the pressure on the following shift, as the Hughes line spent most of its time on offense, changing off for the Zajac line without ceding the zone. Ty Smith then lost the puck high in the zone, and the Devils re-entered. Damon Severson took a shot from the point that deflected off Travis Zajac and past Jarry, putting the Devils up 3-0. Janne Kuokkanen made a great play out of the corner deflecting the puck to the point for Severson’s shot.
Devils 3, Flightless Birds 0.— New Jersey Devils (@NJDevils) March 19, 2021
: Severson pic.twitter.com/Z5QDhwnggI
Travis Zajac nearly got his second of the game a couple minutes later, but his shot was blocked as Jarry left a whole side open on the rebound. Sidney Crosby had two chances on Wedgewood off the rush a few minutes later, and Scott Wedgewood made saves on both shots.
Janne Kuokkanen was boarded by Brian Dumoulin in the Devils’ offensive zone, and Dumoulin even looked back, expecting a penalty call. However, the referees called none. After a stoppage, Ryan Murray mishandled a puck and forced Scott Wedgewood to make multiple saves. Considering Pavel Zacha missed this game after a two-handed slash to his hip was only called for a two-minute penalty on Tuesday rather than a major, I was unhappy to see a clear boarding go uncalled.
Pretty obvious missed call in PIT-NJ several minutes ago as Brian Dumoulin crosschecks Kuokkanen from behind, sending him head first into the dasher pic.twitter.com/wLmQyzqcsK— NHL Safety Watch (@NHLSafetyWatch) March 19, 2021
Michael McLeod then went off for two minutes with only one minute to play in the period, as he interfered with Evan Rodrigues in the corner. Rodrigues held onto McLeod fell down onto the ice. Regardless, the Penguins failed to set up their power play in the first 30 seconds, failing to enter cleanly after an initial clear. They only needed one shot, though, as Jake Guentzel tipped a shot from Kris Letang past Wedgewood.
Through two periods, the Devils led 3-1, and were trailing in the shots battle 31-24. Scott Wedgewood made 22 saves on 23 shots against in the second period. The Devils defense was very rough in the second period, and it gave the Penguins life.
Travis Zajac won the opening draw of the period, and Subban dumped in for the Devils. However, a whistle blew just seconds in, and the faceoff was redone at center. The Devils got the puck deep in the zone again, but the Penguins were able to move it back down the ice. That was until Jack Hughes came on for Zajac, and sparked an offensive zone possession for the Devils. Jesper Bratt and Damon Severson both had prime chances to score, but neither could get a shot on goal.
Over four minutes had passed in the period, and a line of Bratt-Maltsev-Gusev had a couple of shots and created a one-on-one for Mikhail Maltsev on the rush. Maltsev was taken down, and he went crashing into the boards - but no call was made. Mike Matheson made the play on Maltsev.
Maltsev would make a scoring opportunity for himself a couple minutes later. Maltsev shielded the puck from Cody Ceci, and cut into the slot after receiving a pass from Andreas Johnson. His shot was stopped by Jarry. Then, with the Zajac line on, Yegor Sharangovich nearly set up Janne Kuokkanen on a two-on-one, but the pass was blocked near Jarry’s crease by Brian Dumoulin. Travis Zajac then took a shot at the loose puck, but was blocked.
Damon Severson may have avoided a penalty when he took Mike Matheson out of the play after handling the puck. It would have been a bad time for Severson to take a penalty, but the game went on.
Mikhail Maltsev was set up for another great opportunity after Dmitry Kulikov made a great move around an oncoming Penguin, passing to Andreas Johnsson low, who fed it to Maltsev. Maltsev cut toward the net, and tried to go five-hole after plenty of stickhandling - but Jarry denied him.
With just six minutes to play, the Devils had the Maltsev line on again. Lafferty nearly had a chance right in front of Wedgewood, but Ryan Murray made a solid play to deny him the puck. After a stoppage for the puck deflecting out of play, Nikita Gusev made Jarry glove a shot from the neutral zone as he had multiple Penguins left to beat, giving the Devils an offensive draw. Maltsev, Gusev, and Johnsson stayed on for the Devils with under five and a half to play, but they were unable to keep possession. The Zajac line then came on. Yegor Sharangovich stripped the puck from a Penguin in the neutral zone, and his shot went off Jarry and out of play with 4:22 to play.
The Hughes line then came on, and they won the puck on the forecheck after needing to re-enter the zone. Jack Hughes carried from the blue line to near the slot, and his shot rebounded just past Jesper Bratt, who was amidst some Penguins.
With the Zajac line on against Crosby in the final three minutes, Travis Zajac took the puck out of the corner and won it to the point. However, Kulikov’s shot was deflected aside and the Penguins counterattacked. Brandon Tanev joined the Penguins as a sixth skater, as Jarry went off with two minutes to play. The Hughes line defended against the Penguins. They managed to interrupt the Penguins possession multiple times. Damon Severson tried to score from the Devils’ defensive zone with under a minute to play, but his shot went wide, being called for icing with 52 seconds to play. However, Pittsburgh called timeout, giving the Devils a rest.
Jack Hughes, still on due to the icing, had to take a draw against Crosby to the side of Wedgewood. Crosby won the draw back to the point, and was set up for a backhandfrom the slot that went wide. Janne Kuokkanen cleared the puck, and the Devils were called for icing with 33.7 to play. Jack Hughes took another draw against Crosby, but Crosby won cleanly. Scott Wedgewood made a stop on a point shot, and Jack Hughes tried to flip the puck to Janne Kuokkanen - but Kuokkanen ran out of gas, and Letang beat him for the icing. Off the next draw, Scott Wedgewood saved and froze a Letang shot through a screen.Travis Zajac forced the next draw to the wall, but the Penguins quickly moved it back to the middle of the ice, and Bryan Rust’s wrist shot from the top of the faceoff circle beat Wedgewood with just 4.5 seconds to play. 3-2. Zajac took the last draw, and Kyle Palmieri intercepted a pass from the Penguins, and the Devils survived.
The Opposition Opinion: Pensburgh will have the Pittsburgh recap.
Jack Hughes, Back on the Scoresheet
Jack Hughes has had a tough stretch of games lately, with just three points in 13 games leading up to tonight. His last multi-point game was his three-point effort on January 19 against the Rangers. Hughes sparked the scoring for the Devils tonight and got a secondary assist on Subban’s power play goal to reward his solid play for the team. Hughes was active offensively and defensively - as he blocked some shots and passes from the point, and played a lengthy shift in which his line successfully denied the Penguins in a six-on-five situation. Hughes picked a perfect night to get his game going again, as the Devils did not have Pavel Zacha and barely used Michael McLeod after Nathan Bastian’s injury in the second period.
Travis Zajac, Still Doing Well
The Zajac line had a great first period, and Zajac scored in the second period on his tip of Damon Severson’s shot - but they got massively outshot as a result of the second period. They also gave up a late goal to Bryan Rust, but they did well to keep the Crosby line at bay tonight. Travis Zajac played 12:01 against Crosby at five-on-five, allowing 13 shots against by Crosby’s line. Wedgewood stopped all of those, allowing Jack Hughes to play against the Rodrigues-Kapanen line. Zajac’s goal brings him up to 11 points in 23 games for the Devils this season. Zajac has eight points in his last eight games, mostly playing top-six minutes for the Devils.
Scott Wedgewood Earning His Time
Scott Wedgewood was not supposed to play for the Devils tonight, as MacKenzie Blackwood was getting another start after the win on Tuesday. However, due to Blackwood being pulled out of the lineup after warmups, Wedgewood started tonight on short notice. Wedgewood saved 40 of 42 shots, and stood strong in a second period where the Devils allowed over 20 shots. With his win - his first that is not from a shutout this season - Wedgewood is now 3-3-3 in nine games played, with a .920 save percentage. Wedgewood stoped all 36 shots at five-on-five tonight, saving an expected 3.20 goals against before Pittsburgh pulled Jarry, according to Natural Stat Trick. In all situations, Wedgewood saved 10 of 11 high-danger shots, 14 of 14 medium-danger, and 15 of 16 low-danger shots. After being robbed of a win on Sunday, Wedgewood didn’t leave this game up to chance.
A Short Lineup Down the Stretch
Due to injury, Nathan Bastian only played 5:39 tonight. Lindy Ruff then shortened the bench even more, as he only played Michael McLeod for 7:04 - including 1:07 on the penalty kill. Ruff mostly used Zajac, Hughes, and Maltsev in the third period. Throughout the game, they played 19:31, 18:04, and 16:31, respectively. Maltsev was excellent in the third period, as he collected six shot attempts this game and was credited for two high danger chances for the Devils. The only other Devils to have two high danger chances were Zajac and Sharangovich. I thought it was interesting that Ruff chose not to use McLeod much in the third period, as McLeod fared pretty well in the run of play when he was on the ice. His 73.32 xGF% was second behind Nikita Gusev tonight, albeit in less than half his even strength ice time.
Better Game for Murray and Vatanen
Ryan Murray and Sami Vatanen have always seemed like an odd pairing to me. Neither of them have blazing speed, and Vatanen has been caught out of position several times when they’ve been together - especially on counterattacking rushes. In 14:31 tonight, they had a 62.16 CF% as the Devils outshot the Penguins 13-8 with a 12-5 scoring chance ratio and 62.28 xGF%. Aside from a misplayed puck with the Penguins pressuring in the Devils’ defensive zone, Ryan Murray was very solid defensively tonight. Their pairing did particularly well against the Rodrigues-Kapanen line, as the Devils outshot the Penguins 5-0 during that matchup. If Murray and Vatanen can continue to keep their game clean this weekend, it might not be a bad time for the Devils - especially if Smith and Severson have better games on Saturday and Sunday.
What did you think of tonight’s game? Were you surprised to see them win? How does two straight wins make you feel, on top of the game on Sunday? Do you think the Devils can take one more from the Penguins this weekend? Who do you think should start Saturday if Blackwood is unavailable? Who should replace Nathan Bastian if he’s unavailable on Saturday? Will the Devils need to call a forward from Binghamton (at Newark)? Who would you like to see if Bastian is out? What do you think the Devils need to work on for Saturday’s game? Leave your thoughts in the comments below.
No current updates on #NJDevils Mackenzie Blackwood or Nate Bastian tonight, per Lindy Ruff.— Amanda Stein (@amandacstein) March 19, 2021
Blackwood, upper body in warmups.