The good news: Jared McCann is back! The bad news: Brandon Tanev takes warmup but doesn’t play, and when even Brandon Tanev is getting bit by the injury bug you just know it’s out of control. Casey DeSmith in the net on the front end of the back-to-back situation.
For an early starting time, unsurprisingly it’s not a fast start for either teams. The Devils only get four shots on goal in the first period, but one of them includes the period’s only goal. DeSmith makes a nice save on a Sami Vatanen chance but leaves a rebound. Kyle Palmieri drives to the net and has an easy tap into the open cage when Bryan Rust can’t quite tie up his stick in time, and Mike Matheson doing whatever it is that Mike Matheson does in the defensive zone. 1-0 New Jersey.
Kyle crashed and cashed in.— New Jersey Devils (@NJDevils) March 20, 2021
: Bratt pic.twitter.com/SRrWMCYmO4
Pittsburgh gets nine shots in the first. Sidney Crosby plays almost 8 minutes (includes some power play time) as the Penguins are going to try and ride that first line and see where it takes them.
The Pens’ quick strike offense is back as they score two goals in 1:36 to tie the game and then take the lead. First it’s Zach Aston-Reese on the rush, the puck was bouncing around between him and Sam Lafferty and Aston-Reese just pulls the trigger on a shot that seems to catch Scott Wedgewood a bit by surprise. Puck slips under the pads and in for Aston-Reese’s sixth goal of the season and there’s a tie game.
The second goal comes on the power play. Rust pulls the puck off the wall, fights off a stick check with a slick move with his own stick and is clear in open space. Rust deftly lifts the puck backhand to the top shelf and the Pens are up 2-1. Wow, goal scorer’s goal right here.
Watch.— Pittsburgh Penguins (@penguins) March 20, 2021
Bryan Rust can do it all. pic.twitter.com/ooB0DHbhT1
Shots in the second were 12-10 Pittsburgh. The Devils only have 14 SOG through 40 minutes, great defensive job by the Pens to get bodies back, keep everything to the outside and generally limit what New Jersey was able to do.
The Devils get two power plays back to back towards the middle of the period as a prime opportunity to get back into the game. Solid work by the Pens’ PK to not let them get many good looks or much momentum, but NJD also has the 28th ranked power play in the league. They looked every bit of the less-than-dangerous bunch that they are.
The Pens put some distance on the Devils with a beauty of a first line goal. Sidney Crosby knocks a clearing attempt out of mid-air and holds the offensive zone. Crosby surveys and has Jake Guentzel near the net. Crosby fires, Guentzel with the perfect deflection to the top corner of the net that Wedgewood has no shot on. 3-1 Pens.
New Jersey pulls Wedgewood with 2 minutes left for a 6v5. NJ immediately gets a chance in a net-front scramble, the puck ends up squeaking into the net but the refs rule that they had lost sight of the puck and blown the play dead by then and Pittsburgh’s two goal cushion stands.
The Devils push a bit more but DeSmith makes a few nice saves and time expires.
- The ice just looked terrible again, as most the players they interviewed during intermission mentioned as well. Wasn’t great on Thursday night and the puck was bouncing around a lot out there. Not sure what they have going on in Jersey, in a newer building too, but it didn’t look that great out there.
- Of the five trips to the penalty box taken by the Pens, four of them were: high-stick by Anthony Angello, high-stick by Lafferty, hold by Angello, high-stick by Lafferty. Not a great way to stay in the lineup for young players like that, if there was any health to make that happen.
- Nice jersey matchup, always good to see the Devils “Christmas” green and red jerseys. The Pens’ reverse retro on the ice just comes off as a bit underwhelming, though.
- Pittsburgh’s need to generate offense from the defense with a depleted forward group continued. Matheson had 6 SOG himself. It’d be nice if he started hitting paydirt on them though, only has two goals on the season. That’s why it’s tough to count on defensemen to drive the offense, just too inconsistent production-wise and dependent on other factors (traffic, goaltending, etc).
- Solid effort by the Pens as a team to play defense, suppress and prevent a lot of chances against. Much like the Devils bad power play, they’re also only 25th in the league with 2.5 goals/game. This isn’t a high-powered team and just the type of team that a patchwork Pens lineup can try to grind out wins in low-event, low-fun, close scoring type of games that was the picture of today.
- 2 points a piece for Guentzel (1G+1A), Rust (1G+1A) and Crosby (2A). Feels like Guentzel is scoring every game (has a goal in six of the last seven games). The Pens need what is left of their skill players to come through, and the top line totally did this afternoon. The best three skaters on the ice were all 59-87-17 today.
- Nice job as usual in this game by DeSmith. He looks comfortable, he’s playing well and stopped 24/25 today but his team didn’t really ask too much of the goalie today. Nice position to be in, all around.
- The Pens win 3-1, but still find a way to be losing at some point of the game. It’s almost comical at this point just how often this team falls behind early, and then finds a way to win. Just thinking back, this was a fairly comfortable and low stress win, and yet the Pens were still losing at one point. Of course they were.
So now, the rubber match tomorrow back in Pittsburgh. The Pens have been great at home (12-3-0 record this year) and need to try and find a way to bring this same kind of effort to limit what the Devils do and then claw out a few more goals and try to get another result.