Pittsburgh Penguins goalie Casey DeSmith looked to ceiling in exasperation. New Jersey Devils winger and reigning Hart Trophy winner Taylor Hall beat DeSmith on a breakaway midway through the third period. for the game-winning goal as New Jersey beat the Penguins 4-2. Hall also clinched the New Jersey win with an empty net goal.
Hall had four points including two assists.
Groucho Marx once deadpanned, “Any closer, I’d be in back of you.” Throughout the game, New Jersey simply didn’t let the Penguins play the puck except for shortened stretches at the end of the first period and beginning of the second. New Jersey players could have shared the Penguins hockey pants because there was so little space between them.
“It’s frustrating because we’re trying to find wins right now,” said Penguins head coach Mike Sullivan. “And we can’t seem to find them with any level of consistency.”
New Jersey attacked the Pittsburgh Penguins in all three zones and the Penguins were never able to muster enough offense. New Jersey also took care of the puck. They had only one turnover in the first two periods combined. They had six takeaways in the first 40 minutes. And New Jersey did it without bedrock center Brian Boyle and high-flying center Nico Hischier.
New Jersey scored in the first 28 seconds of the game. While the Penguins top line and pairing were settling in, New Jersey was aggressive. DeSmith misplayed a dribbling puck in the crease and Travis Zajac quickly stole the opportunity. Zajac (7) zipped the loose puck into the net.
The Devils dominated the first half of the first period and outshot the Penguins 8-1. However, as the Penguins simplified their offensive approach, the tide turned.
The Penguins power play and Kessel returned to life later in the first period. Phil Kessel (8) somehow deflected a hard pass from Sidney Crosby which traveled through a pair of defenders.
However, it was another rough night for Kessel. Midway through the second period, New Jersey defenseman Damon Severson blasted a shot from the high slot past DeSmith after Kessel left him uncovered.
Kessel also denied New Jersey another goal later in the second period, but not in a conventional way. Kessel dropped the gloves with New Jersey grinder Brett Seney, behind the play. The play was blown dead despite a New Jersey breakaway. Kessel was given an extra minor penalty while Seney received only two minutes for roughing.
“Some of the goals they scored, we didn’t force them to have to work hard enough,” said Sullivan. “And that for me is discouraging.”
Sidney Crosby had two assists including on what was the game-tying goal early in the second period. Crosby crashed the cage and in the process tripped New Jersey goaltender Keith Kinkaid. Jake Guentzel stuffed the loose puck into the net.
A video review concluded Crosby was shoved into Kinkaid by New Jersey forward Blake Coleman. Crosby also earned the primary assist on Kessel’s power-play goal in the first period.
DeSmith, who made his third straight start was good but not great. He stopped 31 of 34 shots and was pulled for the extra attacker with over two minutes remaining. Kinkaid made 33 saves.
The Penguins have lost five of their last six games and all of the loses have come against Metro Division rivals, including two losses to the Devils. The Penguins will host the Tampa Bay Lighting Thursday at PPG Paints Arena.
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