Devils look to make statement with potential third straight win.
The New Jersey Devils have been one of the worst teams in the league, but came into Saturday’s game against the Pittsburgh Penguins having won two in a row.
Granted, the first of these wins came against one of the few teams in the league worse than them, the Buffalo Sabres, but win number two was a big one against a red-hot Penguins team.
The Devils took advantage of an Evgeni Malkin-less Pittsburgh team, and will have to do the same on Saturday.
Some good news for the Devils: one of their best players, Pavel Zacha, would make his return to the lineup after missing a game with an undisclosed injury.
Michael McLeod would sit, but Nick Merkley would start on the second line right wing alongside Miles Wood on the left and Zacha at center. This is his first game since Feb. 18.
Scott Wedgewood, who was excellent on Thursday, would get the start in net with Aaron Dell backing him up. MacKenzie Blackwood is close to returning but still unavailable with an upper-body injury.
1st period: Mr. Underrated
The Devils had just four shots in the first, but were the ones to come out of the period with a 1-0 lead.
The Devils have had problems all season in terms of finishing, so it was nice to see them capitalize on a scoring opportunity by being on alert in the offensive zone.
Kyle Palmieri has been one of the most underrated goal-scorers in the league over the past several years, but has gotten off to a slow start to the season.
However, on the team’s first goal, he showed why he’s been such a good scorer over the years. He was alert enough to monitor the rebound of a Sami Vatanen shot and put it in.
Jesper Bratt, who had the secondary assist on the goal, continues his great play and is now tied with Ty Smith for the team lead in assists. Vatanen continues to show off his recent offensive surge, as well.
The Devils also had some special teams opportunities in the first. The penalty kill looked solid, but the power play did not.
2nd period: Bad again?
The Devils came out firing in the second, but momentum would quickly shift. The Devils found themselves all over the place in their own zone, allowing the Penguins to tie the game.
Seconds later, Wood committed a penalty and the Devils were forced onto the penalty kill. Unfortunately, this one didn’t go as well as the first.
Some bad play by the Devils along the boards as well as excellent puck movement and filthy hands by Bryan Rust allowed him to give his team the lead.
The Devils did such a good job of containing Pittsburgh’s top line on Thursday, but were struggling to do so on Saturday.
The Devils were the better team by far in the second half of the second period. They dominated play and had multiple scoring chances, but were unfortunately unable to capitalize on them.
Can the Devils at least equalize in the final 20 of the game?
3rd period: Dagger in the heart
The Devils had plenty of chances to to score in the third, but the power play let them down. They had two chances on the man-advantage and couldn’t get anything done. Meanwhile, the Penguins were able to add another to their goal total.
The Devils were unlucky late in the game when a goal was overturned, but not scoring on the power play will always hurt. Props must be given to Pittsburgh goalie Casey DeSmith, who was excellent for his team in net.
Special teams continues to be a big issue for the Devils, who should show at least some improvement in that area before the season comes to an end.
Key Moment: Bad special teams
The key moment for the Devils was all the failed special teams play, especially the power play. The Devils conceded a bad goal while short-handed, something that’s been a problem for them all season. However, the power play was the talk of the game.
The Devils went 0/4 on the man-advantage with a whopping one shot. This is unacceptable. The fact that they struggled so mightily against one of the worst penalty killing units in hockey makes how they played on the man-advantage even worse.
The power play cost the Devils, who could’ve had a serious chance at winning if they scored when it mattered, the game, especially since they looked very strong at even-strength.
Once again, this is an area they must continue to focus on at practice.
Player of the game: Kyle Palmieri
The Devils’ lone goal scorer was their best player. Palmieri did score, but had a strong offensive game aside from the goal. Fans will hope that this goal can get him going and serve as a spark.
His situation is particularly interesting as the trade deadline approaches.
Palmieri’s numbers: 18:10 TOI, 1 G, 70.37 CF%, 0.86 iXG, 0.67 xGF, 0.37 xGA, 0.94 GF, 1.01 GA, 1.69 game score, -0.13 defensive rating, 0.45 offensive rating, and 1.22 individual rating.
Stats are courtesy of Hockey Stat Cards and Natural Stat Trick.