So close, yet so far.
Despite many promising performances from the Devils’ young forwards, they fell short today, as unlucky bounces and suspect defense led to a 6-4 Penguins victory.
The Devils scored the first goal of the game, after a faceoff win led to a Jesper Bratt shot which hit DeSmith in front of the net. Miles Wood, showcasing his physicality against Kris Letang, was able to find the puck loose in the slot and deposit it past DeSmith for the 1-0 lead.
After some good sustained pressure by the Vatanen line, Ty Smith showed how sustained offense could be destroyed with one bad pass, as an errant pass led to a three-on-one opportunity for Pittsburgh. Pittsburgh was robbed by Blackwood on that attempt, but this hectic play did lead to the Devils getting called for too-many-men.
Unfortunately for the Devils, sustained pressure and bad luck on the penalty kill led to a tying goal for Pittsburgh. A shot from the point, which I believe was blocked fell perfectly to Jared McCann. McCann took a simple shot from the slot, which beat Blackwood, and just like that the game was tied.
After this, there were few chances in between, before Vatanen was called for a weak tripping call. The penalty kill saw Kulikov absolutely level Mike Matheson, and the Devils did an excellent job on killing the rest of the penalty. Sam Lafferty was then sprung on a breakaway, but he too was stopped by the glove hand of Blackwood. Jesper Bratt was then also sprung on a breakaway, but he lost the handle on the puck. Miles Wood was then more deservedly called for tripping, giving the Penguins their 3rd power play, though the Devils were able to kill this as well.
The following series of play then saw a PK Subban deke at the blueline, before he missed the Devil backdoor. This led to a Penguins counterattack, where Brian Dumoulin chose to send a simple shot on net which bounced off of Janne Kuokkanen and past Blackwood to give the Penguins the 2-1 lead.
The second period saw the Devils start off slow. The referees missed a Jack Hughes trip, before the Lafferty line kept the puck in the Devils zone and applied pressure on Blackwood.
However, the Devils were the one to start the scoring in the 2nd! Lackadaisical Penguin play led to a Sharangovich shot, which Kuokkanen found. Kuokkanen batted the puck back at DeSmith, who stopped it again, only for it to fall to Hughes. Hughes found the net from an awkward angle, and just like that the game was tied.
After this, the Devils controlled play as they searched for another goal. Boqvist was robbed by DeSmith on another rebound. The Devils were able to draw a penalty on a Pavel Zacha drive, and were amazing on the power play, regardless of if they scored or not. The Johnsson-Bratt-Zacha-Hughes-Smith group seems to have great chemistry together, as they had excellent puck movement and put pressure DeSmith throughout the entire two minutes.
The following series of play saw the Devils and Pavel Zacha continue to apply pressure on DeSmith, which he stopped, before Sam Lafferty had two incredible chances in front of the net to score, but he was stonewalled by Blackwood on both.
Unfortunately for the Devils, the Penguins scored yet again on another bounce which found Colton Sceviour in front. To give Sceviour some credit, it was one hell of a deflection, as he found the puck in midair. As such, the Penguins ended the 2nd up 3-2.
The 3rd period saw the Devils have a couple of chances with opportunities from Sharangovich and Kuokkanen. Unfortunately for the Devils, the referees struck again, as a borderline at best hooking call was called on Wood. The Penguins would take advantage of this mistake, as a Brian Rust slapshot got by Blackwood to give the Penguins a 4-2 lead.
The Penguins executed a defensive scheme from here on out, neutralizing the Devils on the offense. They did, however, get their chances and execute on them. Rust outskated a Devils defenseman to find Guentzel, who then whipped a pass to Crosby, who ripped a shot for a 5-2 Penguins lead.
The Devils didn’t completely back down though, as the Boqvist line found some luck, as Boqvist flung a puck in front of the net, which bounced off of Kris Letang and past DeSmith, to get themselves back to 5-3.
Blackwood then stopped Gaudreau on a partial breakaway, before the Devils pulled the goalie with around four minutes to go. Brian Dumoulin, with a little over a minute ago, completely whiffed on a clearance, as he banked it off of Casey DeSmith’s back and in for a 5-4 goal. Give the goal to Miles Wood.
Unfortunately, this was all for naught. The Penguins were able to clear the puck away from their end, and Rust utilized his superior speed to score the empty netter. And with the game was over as the Devils fell 6-4.
Despite the loss, I was extremely happy with the performance of our young forwards, as they were dynamic, exciting, and showed desperation in going for goals. Hughes and Boqvist both scored in back-to-back games, which should only increase their confidence moving forward.
Jesper Bratt continues his strong play, as he records another assist to give him 24 points through 33 games, which would give him 60 points over a 82 game season. He seems to be willing to shoot the puck more as well in recent games, which should help his goal scoring efforts as well in coming campaigns.
Wood’s two goals now gives him 13 on the year, and he’s shown his value for the Devils with his speed and aggression, combined with some seemingly better patience. His second penalty called against him was, in my opinion, a load of crap, so I’m willing to give him a pass on that one.
Despite poor numbers from a Corsi perspective, I liked how the Kuokkanen-Hughes-Sharangovich trio looked yet again. The three seemed to put a lot of pressure on the Penguins defensemen, driving the play in the offensive end and giving DeSmith a lot of trouble.
Our defense needs to get better. If not for a shaky defense, the Devils very well could have stolen this game from the Devils. Instead, poor positioning combined with inconsistent performances yet again led to a four goal effort wasted. The answer may come externally, or it may come from an internal source. Whatever the case, I’d love to see Nikita Okhotyuk get an opportunity sooner rather than later, in hopes of seeing an what he offers to the team.
Blackwood, despite the horrendous scoreline, was solid yet again. A majority of the goals were unlucky bounces which happened to fall to Pittsburgh Penguins - what can you do about that? Even with his surface numbers not looking great, this is a result of the defending more than Blackwood, as he has seemingly established himself as the goalie of the future for the Devils.
How did you feel about the game? Who played well? Who played poorly? Let me know in the comments below, and take care!