Tuesday night was a goaltending duel; tonight? Not so much. The New Jersey Devils (28-38-14) fall to the Pittsburgh Penguins (50-19-11) in their season series finale by a score of 7-4; they go 0-3-1 against the Pens this season. Yes, this was Pittsburgh’s 50th win of the season. They also clinch 2nd place in the Metropolitan division and will have home ice advantage for their first round of the playoffs against the Blue Jackets.
This loss doesn’t fall entirely on Cory Schneider’s shoulders; there were also bad passes and gaps in the defense, etc. How do you properly defend against a Penguins team that is just as good as they are, even with all of the injuries they have? You don’t. The Devils’ defense isn’t that great to begin with either. But both Schneider and Matt Murray had a up-and-down nights, which is a reason why the score was as high as it was.
I won’t go through all of the goals because there were 11 of them and frankly, I don’t care about who scored for Pittsburgh. They didn’t let Sidney Crosby score tonight (he’s scored in the previous three games against New Jersey) which is a good thing but he, obviously, isn’t their only goal-scorer. The Devils got the early lead with a goal from Stefan Noesen (his 8th!) on assists from Beau Bennett and Jacob Josefson (his first game back after missing the last 17). John Moore scored just 10 seconds into the second to tie the game up at 2 with his 11th goal of the season (I know, I know), with the assists going to Kyle Palmieri and Adam Henrique. Palmieri’s assist was the 100th of his career! Taylor Hall scored his 20th of the season to cut the Pens’ lead back to one, assists going to Andy Greene and Travis Zajac, and Palmieri scored his 26th to the cut the score to 5-4 (Zajac had the lone assist); this was Palmieri’s 99th goal of his career so here’s to hoping he’ll get at least #100 before the season concludes.
But hey, there were also some other good things. The Devils did outshoot the Pens 38-28 (they just couldn’t capitalize on them); they did have some really good scoring chances tonight, including a few breakaways. They did score a power play goal (Hall’s goal) and had three opportunities; they did, however, only manage to kill one of Pittsburgh’s three power plays. They had 32 (!) hits on the night and were a physically aggressive team tonight (which isn’t entirely due to Ben Thomson, but at least partially).
I’m going to be honest, I wasn’t expecting the Devils to win. It would’ve been a pleasant surprise if they did but it wasn’t expected. They’ve lost all three games to the Pens this year and Pittsburgh has been completely dominant on the ice; there’s a reason they might be the first back-to-back Stanley Cup champions since the Red Wings in 1997-98. The fact that the Devils looked really good tonight against a team like theirs and managed to score four goals is an accomplishment in itself.
Yeah there were mistakes and those happen when a good portion of your lineup are either rookies or young enough to be considered rookies. They’re making mistakes but they’re learning from them, which is really all we can ask for. Pittsburgh’s first goal (Rust’s) was on Michael Kapla, who made a bad pass to Blake Coleman that was intercepted in front of Schneider. He won’t make a mistake like that again. Henrique and Coleman had a chance shorthanded but Coleman opted to pass the puck instead of shooting (and thus, they did not score); he’ll learn to shoot instead of pass in situations like that. It’s the little things (or the big things, depending on how you look at them) that they’ll learn with experience.
Speaking of rookies (but also not really), the Devils may try and sign Alexander Kerfoot out of Harvard now (they were eliminated from the Frozen Four tonight).
I can’t really complain about the way the game ended; they didn’t get shutout, they scored a decent amount of goals, they took a ton of shots on net, they played a fast-paced game, and they didn’t look bad.
The Devils do have two games left; they’ll face the Islanders one last time on Saturday when puck drops at 6PM.