PITTSBURGH — The Pittsburgh Penguins 11 game home winning streak is over. The New Jersey Devils not only skated with the Penguins but were also able to create more offense on the rush and create an opportunistic forecheck. In the end, the Devils burned the Penguins, 3-2 at PPG Paints Arena.
Derick Brassard made his Penuins debut. He began the game with Conor Sheary on his left wing and Phil Kessel on his right. However, for most of the second period, Brassard had Riley Sheahan on his left flank. Brassard spent the past two seasons in the Ottawa Senators defensive trap scheme.
Coming to the high-flying Penguins will be an adjustment:
“Just everywhere. Defensive zone. Neutral zone. Offensive zone, for me, is something like really different,” said Brassard. “It’s going to take me a couple games to get a feel for it.”
The Penguins offensive talent was displayed on the first goal of the game. Midway through the first period, Riley Sheahan made a difficult kick-pass to Jake Guentzel at the red line look easy. In the offensive zone, Guentzel passed it to the point but Kris Letang widened his legs so the puck traveled through to defensive partner Brian Dumoulin.
Sidney Crosby (21) crashed the net and easily buried the rebound.
The goal, from the rush to the slick plays, and gritty Crosby goal, was a shining example of Penguins breadth of talent.
However, the Devils speed and ability to exploit the seams in the Penguins zone coverage equalized the offensive chances.
A few minutes later, the Devils tied the game. Kyle Palmieri backed the Penguins defenders, including Jamie Oleksiak deeper in the zone. Palmieri (17) beat Casey DeSmith with a long-range wrist shot. It was a soft goal.
Four minutes into the second period, newly acquired Devils speedster forward, Michael Grabner got behind Kris Letang for a breakaway chance. DeSmith stopped Michael Grabner, but Letang slashed Grabner during the chance.
“They’re fast, they play with a lot of pace. They know how to create rushes, for sure,” said DeSmith.
The Devils cashed in the power-play chance. Penguins center Riley Sheahan collapsed too low in the zone, which left Devils point-man Damon Severson wide open. Severson hit the crossbar but Taylor Hall (27) didn’t miss the rebound chance.
The Devils owned the second period in chances and shots, 16-7.
“There were moments out there where we were trying to outscore them rather than outplay them… I think we have to do a better job of playing a tighter game.”
New Jersey’s momentum carried into the third period. In front of the Penguins net, defenseman Olli Maatta failed to defend Stefan Noesen (9), who neatly deflected the puck under DeSmith’s arm. The Penguins goalie didn’t maintain tight body position on the post, which created the opening.
“I guess that’s why teams throw it on the net, get bodies to the net, get tips. Unpredictability like that is tough,” said DeSmith.
In addition to not bodying Noesen, Maatta’s turnover behind the net begin the Devils sequence.
“I turned the puck over breaking out and that led to it. They’re a good forechecking team and we’ve got to execute coming out of our own zone.”
Matt Hunwick scored the Penguins second goal late in the second period. Hunwick cut to the net and deflected Jake Guentzel’s pass behind Devils goalie Keith Kinkaid. Hunwick was on the ice for a pair of goals against, as well. However, Mike Sullivan spared his defenseman any critique with perhaps a subtle hint he believed a couple of the goals were soft. His comments are open to interpretation:
“Just because someone’s on the ice for a goal doesn’t necessarily mean that is their fault. There’s five, there’s six players on the ice, not five. There’s six guys on the ice,” said Sullivan.
DeSmith stopped 35 of 38 shots, and Kinkaid stopped 36 of 38 shots.
Postgame Analysis and Grades
Casey DeSmith: C-
The goaltender made himself small too often. Two of the goals were softies and DeSmith went down early. Perhaps the Devils speed made the rookie taste a little bit of apprehension, but DeSmith was certainly in good spirits after the game. With a big smile, he said he’s looking forward to the opportunity to play in some serious games, “Absolutely…”
Matt Hunwick / Jamie Oleksiak: B
Perhaps it’s time to peel the “scapegoat” label off Hunwick. He was quiet, then pounced for an important goal. Oleksiak was tied with Letang for combined shots and shot attempts (5). Only Crosby and Evgeni Malkin had more.
Oleksiak’s Corsi rating was over 48 percent, which put him in the top tier of Penguins. Hunwick’s Corsi was 40 percent, which put him in the middle.
The pair had zero giveaways. Oleksiak led the team with five hits.
Patric Hornqvist: B
Fresh from inking his new five-year contract, Hornqvist had several chances in his “office”. Hornqvist forced Kinkaid to make a couple nice saves and couldn’t get a couple of other shots on net.
Hornqvist was disruptive in the crease and in the corners. When the Devils took the puck in the second period, it negated Hornqvist’s game, but he had additional chances in the third period.
Conor Sheary: D
The speedy winger was benched in the second period but did play five minutes in the third period. His total ice time was over 13 minutes.
Sheary was given a prime spot beside Derick Brassard. They got off to a good start, but Sheary and Kessel did not hold up their end of the bargain. All about Derick Brassard’s performance on our subscriber’s page. Subscribe here!