The Devils struck first, as Nico Hischier took the puck into the offensive zone with Jesper Bratt on the other wing. Nico tried to pass across, but it was blocked and deflected into the air, and Nico knocked it down. Hischier and Zacha fought for the puck, and Nico set Jesper Bratt up at the netside for a goal that snuck past Tristan Jarry, giving the Devils a 1-0 lead.
The Penguins nearly tied he game a minute and a half later, with Bryan Rust coming centimeters from scoring as he rang a shot off the iron. The goal horn even came on for the Penguins, but the Devils maintained their lead.
Nico Hischier almost extended the lead a bit past five and a half minutes in. Hischier was in the slot, and got a clean backhand shot after a point shot was blocked and batted to him. The Devils stayed with it following an excellent kick save by Jarry, and the puck got back to Jesper Bratt off a hasty, bad pass by the Penguins - and Bratt went top corner on Jarry! 2-0, Devils.
Jesp so happy you’re back, Jesper. pic.twitter.com/foZLCjAJTS— New Jersey Devils (@NJDevils) February 25, 2022
Yegor Sharangovich applied forechecking pressure on the Penguins following a Devils entry just a minute later, and Marcus Pettersson was not able to pass out of the zone - giving it away to P.K. Subban. Subban faked shot, passed low to Sharangovich - and Sharangovich patiently stickhandled and roofed the puck! 3-0, Devils. Mike Sullivan called timeout less than seven minutes into the game, and gave his team a stern speech.
If you leave Yegor alone in front, YOU’RE GONNA HAVE A BAD TIME. pic.twitter.com/Tue9IOFzu3— New Jersey Devils (@NJDevils) February 25, 2022
Pavel Zacha nearly joined the scoring, as the top line had another offensive zone possession just a minute and a half after the Sharangovich goal. Jesper Bratt had the puck along the wall, nearing the low corner before he slid a prime pass to Pavel Zacha - who was circling high for the one-timer. Zacha ripped off a shot, but Jarry got it with his shoulder. On the other end, Nico Daws made an incredible save to keep the Penguins scoreless, as Marino slid a backhand pass from the goal line across the crease - but Daws got the pad out.
Nico Daws made an excellent save on a one-timer by Jeff Carter with seven and a half minutes to play in the period, following a lengthy puck battle on the boards high in the zone. Following the shot, the Penguins were whistled for tripping as Siegnethaler and Malkin were getting into it and Malkin tripped up Siegenthaler.
The Devils struggled early in the power play, not being able to string together consecutive passes and turning the puck over often. Finally getting set in the second minute, a shot by Severson was blocked away and the Penguins cleared. Dougie Hamilton had to shake off Evan Rodrigues on the forecheck, coming on for Severson. The second unit did not get a shot off despite taking the offensive zone.
The Devils went to the box with 3:06 to play, as Jesper Boqvist was called for slashing Sidney Crosby. There was not anything there. McLeod and Vesey took to the kill with Severson and Siegenthaler. The linesman kicked McLeod, and Vesey lost the draw - but Severson got the puck out of the zone after interrupting Crosby. The Penguins came right back, and Daws had to make a shoulder save before Severson cleared again. The rest of the kill was an excellent display by the Devils, keeping the Penguins from getting another shot on net. Nico Daws made a couple more saves at even strength, and Tomas Tatar got a nice shot off as the period expired that Jarry turned aside with the blocker.
The Penguins started the middle frame with much more offensive cohesiveness than they showed in the first. Nico Daws had to make a few saves in the opening minutes, but it was the shots that went wide that seemed most dangerous before a Crosby shot/Guentzel rebound combo was denied at the doorstep about five minutes into the period. The Devils barely averted a goal not too long after, with Severson defending John Marino on a chance that Daws just got in front of.
Pavel Zacha created a great chance for the Devils, cutting down the side with Nico Hischier going to the front of the net. Zacha shielded the puck and shrugged off the defender, centering the puck - but it got through Hischier and Bratt. The Devils would wish they had stayed in the offensive zone a bit longer, as Sidney Crosby’s line promptly pinned them back for another lengthy possession.
Jack Hughes took the puck behind the net from Marcus Pettersson, and he quickly passed out in front to Dawson Mercer who gave the Devils a 4-0 lead with a shot past the glove! With over ten minutes to play in the period, the Devils padded their lead.
Mercer put the boys up by 4! pic.twitter.com/UOPj5ZEfK1— New Jersey Devils (@NJDevils) February 25, 2022
With 9:42 to play, the Devils went back to the penalty kill as Nathan Bastian was called for a hold. Jimmy Vesey got a clear to start the kill, and he disrupted the Penguins’ transition for a moment. The Penguins got the puck to Evgeni Malkin cutting down through the slot, and Malkin took it off his backhand and ripped a shot past Daws. 4-1.
Right after the Hischier line had a three-on-two that Jesper Bratt got a shot off on, the Devils went to the power play as Ryan Graves took a high stick from Brock McGinn. The Devils struggled with puck movement again, having to recollect from their own end. Jack Hughes left the puck for Nico Hischier, who cut toward the middle with a wide stance and forced Jarry to make a save. Off the following draw, Damon Severson took a shot through a screen and beat Jarry! 5-1, Devils. Following the goal, Casey DeSmith came into the game for Tristan Jarry.
After Andreas Johnsson and Sidney Crosby took coincidental minor penalties, play went to four-on-four. Nico Hischier had a chance to shoot after a takeaway behind the net, and DeSmith sent his shot out of play. The Devils were unable to generate any other chances, and play returned to full-strength. A shot from Malkin went off the iron, and he went for the rebound but was denied by Daws’ glove.
After Tomas Tatar took a shot right off the draw, Chad Ruhwedel took Tatar’s stick to the face. The Devils played on the kill for the rest of the period. Jimmy Vesey disrupted a pass at the blueline and caused an offsides with under a minute to play. Yegor Sharangovich later poked the puck off Letang’s stick at the blueline. The Penguins finally got a shot in the final second of the period, and it was kicked away by Daws.
The Devils were able to finish off the last 45 seconds of their penalty kill. The Penguins were relatively non-threatening - and Vesey had Tatar ahead of the play coming out of the box and missed him with a pass behind. About four and a half minutes in, Pavel Zacha had a one-on-one and shot around the defender but into Jarry’s padding. Both teams were doing mostly well to prevent scoring chances from developing.
Damon Severson took a penalty for tripping Kasperi Kapanen on the rush with 13:19 to play. McLeod was chased from the draw, but the Devils won it anyway and cleared. There was a lengthy board battle in the corner toward the end of the first minute, and Sidney Crosby delivered a shove and a hard crosscheck to Ryan Graves’ lower back that ended the Penguins’ power play just 48 seconds into it. Nico Hischier lost the four-on-four draw, and Jeff Carter shot wide on the other end before Nico took back possession. Jeff Carter hit Dawson Mercer high, Marcer to go down in a heap of pain. It appeared to be a crosscheck to the neck, and the Devils went to four-on-three for 24 seconds followed by a double minor power play.
Nico Hischier had a chance to score on a rebound from a Dougie Hamilton shot, but his stick broke and he had to retrieve a new one as the Devils got a man back and went to five-on-three for 40 seconds. Hamilton fired a shot off the glass, and another slap shot went wide. A third try was blockered away. Jack Hughes took the puck in the corner after it was wound around by Dawson Mercer. Hughes found Hischier in the slot, who shot it straightway and beat DeSmith! 6-1, with another two minutes on the power play as the Crosby penalty just expired before the goal.
The second unit struggled, failing to take the offensive zone in a whole minute. The first unit then came back on, but the Penguins cleared right after an entry. Getting back to the offensive zone, Hughes’ shot was deflected out of play. The last penalty expired without any chances.
The Devils really controlled the game for the rest of the night. Jesper Bratt had a chance in the final minute to make it a hat trick off an excellent deke and pass by Nico Hischier, but Jarry made the stop. On the other end, Nico Daws flashed his glove on a Evan Rodrigues shot. Jimmy Vesey found Bastian from the wall, and Bastian did not get a quick enough shot off, allowing DeSmith to make a save. The game ended a 6-1 Devils win.
The Opposition Opinion: Check out Pensburgh.
The Usual Suspects Stay Hot
Jesper Bratt, Nico Hischier, and Jack Hughes all had three point nights for the New Jersey Devils tonight. That brings Jesper Bratt back to a point-per-game pace, with 16 goals and 30 assists in 46 games. Jack Hughes, meanwhile, is getting beyond that rate with 14 goals and 19 assists in 31 games. Nico Hischier has 14 goals and 19 assists to his name in 45 games, which equates to just over a 60-point pace per 82 games. Nico Hischier also now owns a 14.7 shooting percentage, well above his mark of 13.6% last season.
Yegor Sharangovich has been joining them lately, with now eight points in his last five games. His line with Jack Hughes and Dawson Mercer has generally been strong so far, although they were underwater in terms of shot differential tonight at a measly three to six. Nonetheless, they did not allow the Penguins to score and Sharangovich was able to get them an even strength goal.
The top line of Jesper Bratt, Nico Hischier, and Pavel Zacha was by far the best line for the Devils tonight. Not only did Bratt have two goals, but they had a 75.00 CF%, allowing just four attempts and three on goal against. Nico Hischier was mostly matched up against Evgeni Malkin and Sidney Crosby, playing over three minutes against each. In 3:09 against Crosby, the Devils had six attempts and five shots on goal, allowing none against while Nico matched up with Crosby.
Sidney Crosby saw a mixed spread of Devils tonight, facing McLeod for 5:37, Hughes for 3:55, Hischier for 3:09, and Boqvist for 2:46. While Hischier’s line dominated Crosby’s and Boqvist (yes, Jesper Boqvist) played about even with him, Crosby ate McLeod and Hughes alive - but Daws made the difference. Combined, Crosby had a 0.70 xGF to 0.11 xGA when facing the two centers, with the Penguins outshooting the Devils 9-1 in that time. While not entirely surprising for McLeod, Jack Hughes has historically fared well against Sidney Crosby - but Hughes still made a difference in the game with his playmaking. Meanwhile, Crosby did not break the scoresheet.
Daws Coming Up Big
As mentioned above, Nico Daws was huge for the Devils tonight. The Pittsburgh Penguins got 38 shots on goal with an expected goals against of 2.62, but Daws just allowed one on a wicked shot from Malkin (not a bad guy to give the one to). You might be thinking, well - why would the Devils worry if they scored six and only had 2.62 expected against? However, had Daws not made some timely saves and stood on his head for the whole second period at even strength, the Penguins could have utterly killed the Devils’ momentum. Had Daws not made a nice save at the end of the first, or if he gave up any of the shots when the Penguins led the Devils 8-0 in shots to start the second period, the Devils could have blown this lead given their recent history. Also, if you’re keeping track of our goalie analytics, this game should roughly even out Daws’ goals saved above expected. It also brings him to a .906 save percentage, having saved 87 of just 96 shots in five appearances. By comparison, Akira Schmid saved 88 of 106 in his first five appearances for an .830 save percentage.
Daws's numbers haven't been anything to write home about in his limited NHL time so far (8 Gs on 6.7 xG), but I've liked how he's looked in the crease.— CJ Turtoro (@CJTDevil) February 25, 2022
But I liked how Blackwood looked too so wtf do I know.
I would very much like for Nico Daws to spend the rest of the season in New Jersey. He might have a bad game, like the one in Calgary, from time to time - but at least his save percentage is over .900 through five games. Akira Schmid never had a .900 save percentage in any of his six appearances. Schmid also never faced more than 32 shots, with Daws getting a real taste of the fire tonight and coming out on top.
“I thought Nico [Daws] was really strong for us. Especially in the second period, they came with a hard push.”— New Jersey Devils (@NJDevils) February 25, 2022
Hear from Lindy Ruff following tonight’s 6-1 win. #NJDevils | @Genucel pic.twitter.com/PkARu9Npob
Even if Nico Daws stays in the NHL for the rest of the season, it would only solve part of the Devils’ goalie problem. I would still encourage Tom Fitzgerald to continue his “[aggressive] calling” of other GMs for a goaltending fix for at least this season. I think Daws is very promising, though. He is only 21, having turned 21 a couple months after he won his first NHL game. By comparison, Mackenzie Blackwood made his debut nine days after his 22nd birthday. Daws was a bit of an odd draft pick as a third round overager - but he should be considered a serious prospect. He’s not just an “AHL goaltender” like Jon Gillies. It is imperative that the Devils acquire another goaltender to allow Daws to make regular appearances so the team can evaluate him at the NHL level without overworking him. In his post-game interview, Daws indicated the high volume of shots was a challenge for him - and the Devils would do best to evaluate him when he’s playing fresh and not tired. If they can manage him correctly, I want to know how many more top teams Daws can hold down.
“Obviously anytime the team scores as much as we did makes it easier for the goalie. I thought we all did a great job tonight.”— New Jersey Devils (@NJDevils) February 25, 2022
Nico Daws speaks following a big effort to help the team win 6-1 over the Penguins. #NJDevils | @Genucel pic.twitter.com/WSPrhhseZe
What did you think of tonight’s game? Did you enjoy it? Were you happy the Devils did not blow it this time? How did you feel about the Hischier line tonight? How about Daws? What did you think of special teams tonight? Were you surprised by their third period play? Leave your thoughts in the comments below.