The New Jersey Devils (26-32-12) drop their fourth straight game against the Pittsburgh Penguins (43-18-9) this season; they were outscored 6-4 and outshot 43-36 (which, in all honesty, could have been much worse). Keith Kinkaid stood on his head and kept his team in it all night long by making huge saves; he stopped 37 shots on 42 faced (.881 save percentage) but Matt Murray was a little bit better tonight, making 32 saves on 36 shots against (.889 save %). Both teams went 1/4 on the man advantage.
Kyle Palmieri got things started with his 24th goal of the season about five minutes into the first period but Phil Kessel, a Stanley Cup champion, tied things up almost exactly a minute later. Palmieri has 10 goals in 12 games and five in his last three. Kessel snapped a 13-game goal drought. Jake Guentzel gave Pittsburgh the lead, Stefan Noesen tied things up again with his 6th goal of the season, but Sidney Crosby, of course, helped the Pens regain the lead, which they carried into the second. Nick Bonino extended the Pens lead but former Penguin Beau Bennett scores his 5th to cut the lead back to one. In the third, Carter Rowney scored his first NHL goal to restore the Pens lead to two. Palmieri scored his second goal of the night to give the Devils a fighting chance but Crosby (again, of course) sealed the win with an empty-netter. He now has 37 goals on the season, which ties the Bruins’ Brad Marchand for the league lead.
Even with the referees working against the Devils all night long, they skated side-by-side with the defending Stanley Cup champs, a team that could very well win it all again this season. I hate, hate blaming the referees for losses and I won’t because anyone who watches hockey knows that they have been significantly more worse this season than seasons prior but calling a weak penalty shot on Ben Lovejoy (awarded to Kessel, who was stopped) but then not calling the same exact call in the following sequence when Hall was hooked? I have no problem with awarding a penalty shot to Kessel; I accepted it and moved on but then not calling it a play later when it was more blatantly obvious? Give me a break. Coach Hynes needs to catch a break.
But while the refereeing was awful, I care more about tonight’s positives. The kids looked really good tonight. Miles Wood did get hurt, which could put a damper on things going forward. Steven Santini was a healthy scratch for the second straight night (which I’m still mad about). John Quenneville recorded his first NHL point with an assist on Noesen’s goal; he looked like a completely different player tonight. The kids are really starting to come into their own. Joe Blandisi was a force to be reckoned with. Damon Severson is having a career season.
Hall, Bennett, and Blandisi are all on four game point streaks: Hall has a pair of goals and three assists, Bennett has a pair of goals and assists, and Blandisi has a goal and three assists. I would love to see Bennett stick around next year. Hall and Palmieri led the team in shots on goal with five apiece, Wood had four.
They actually scored goals tonight, something that we’ve seen them do in their last three games. They scored four against Arizona, six against Philadelphia, and four tonight against Pittsburgh. For a team that’s struggled (I mean, really struggled) offensively all season long, they’re finally starting to figure things out. The Hall-Zajac-Palmieri line has been lights out and I hope that’s a combination that sticks together next season.
But the biggest positive for me was that they held their own and they didn’t let up when they found themselves down a goal or two. They continued to fight for a full 60 minutes and that’s reason enough to be excited about this team’s future. They have a ways to go but they will get there. It was a fun game to watch (even though it took several years off my life in the process), they scored goals, and that’s all we can really ask for at this point.
The Devils will be back in action against the Columbus Blue Jackets on Sunday; puck drops at 1PM!
P.S. Michael McLeod had a two-goal night as his Mississauga Steelheads defeated the Barrie Colts, 4-2.