I admit I could have watched last night’s game live but didn’t. After the awful last three games I needed a ‘show me’ effort since the Devils spent the better part of last week sulking around without Jack Hughes and skating like they knew they were cooked without their young franchise center (who’s now out for at least five more weeks after a follow-up examination of his dislocated shoulder). Facing a Pittsburgh team that dominated them last year didn’t make me any more anxious to watch last night, especially with a back-to-back against the Blue Jackets this afternoon.
Thankfully last night’s 4-2 win in Pittsburgh provided the first true boost of optimism post-Hughes injury. Especially since for the first time in four games they didn’t throw out a garbage effort in the first period (baby steps), although they did go behind early with a Dalton Heinen goal off a rebound. Unlike the Calgary and Washington games, they didn’t go in the tank after giving up the first goal and got a deserved break late in the first period when Andreas Johnsson’s…passshot toward the front of the net deflected off a Penguin skate and past Tristan Jarry with just 37 seconds remaining in the period.
For once, the Devils’ special teams were actually a net positive – though they went 0-2 on the PP they managed to kill off five different Penguin power plays and even scored a shorthanded goal late in the second period, when Jimmy Vesey sprang himself on a breakaway and deked past Jarry at 17:57 of the second to give the Devils a 2-1 lead. Perhaps it should have been more as the Devils outshot Pittsburgh 28-16 in the first two periods and had the lion’s share of quality chances as well, but…that’s hockey sometimes.
Credit Theodor Blueger for a great turnaround pass as he was falling down near the boards early in the third period that found Brock McGinn alone in front for the Penguins’ tying goal and set up a nervous twenty minutes for the visitors, who were outshot 17-12 in what turned out to be the game’s final twenty minutes. Devils coach Lindy Ruff admitted after the game that while the first forty minutes were probably the team’s best of the season, the final twenty it was returning goalie Jonathan Bernier and the Devils’ PK that held the fort against the Pens’ assault.
Somehow the game was still tied with three minutes to go when the key sequence of the game happened (YT link above), ironically it was Sidney Crosby in playing his first game of the season who fouled Jesper Bratt from behind, leading to referee Corey Sivret calling a deserved penalty shot against the league’s marquee player. Of course Crosby complained despite the fact it was a clear foul from behind, and there was even some question as to whether Bratt would be able to take the penalty shot, wincing in pain after the play. He did…and scored perhaps the Devils’ biggest goal of the season so far other than maybe the Hughes OT winner.
For once the Devils managed to put the game away without much fuss (despite an unconscionable too many men penalty in the last minute of play), even catching a break when the Penguins turned the puck over as Jarry was going to the bench for the extra skater – leading to the comical sequence of Johnsson deking his way around Jarry who got caught in no-man’s land near the bench, and putting the puck in the now-empty net. Even if both of Johnsson’s goals were a bit fortunate, it’s deserved good fortune as he’s played well to start the season and silenced the doubters like me who worried that his 2018-19 was the fluke, given his 13 goals and 32 points in 93 games since his breakout 23-20-43 season in Toronto. Can’t really complain about three goals and five points in six games so far, especially from a guy who was left unprotected in the expansion draft, and passed over by Seattle in favor of fourth line grinder Nathan Bastian.
It was also nice to see Bratt bounce back with a two-point night, if somewhat predictable cause it seems like his good scoring binges coincide with getting called out by various coaching staffs. Probably the most important Devil last night was Bernier though, after he missed three straight games with an undisclosed injury he returned in Pittsburgh and made 38 saves in a crucial road win, upping his record to 3-0. With Mackenzie Blackwood seemingly nearing a return as well (and finally getting his first vaccination shot) it’ll be very interesting to see how coach Ruff decides to divvy up the goaltending games going forward if Bernier continues to shine. In the immediate future it’ll be interesting to see if they actually give Bernier the start in a back-to-back after a taxing effort just off the injured list.
Devils Three Stars:
- Jonathan Bernier – 38 saves, win in his return from the injured list
- Jesper Bratt – assist and a very big penalty shot goal late in the third
- Andreas Johnsson – two goals in a possible ‘re-breakout’ season