For the better part of the past two decades, the New Jersey Devils have been one of the premier defensive teams in the NHL. Backstopped by surefire Hall of Famer Martin Brodeur in goal, and led by defensive masterminds like Larry Robinson, the Devils have carved an identity as one of the stingiest teams in the league.
In previous years, when the Devils jumped out to an early 3-1 lead, the outcome of the game had already been decided as the Devils’ system would shut down the neutral zone. Tuesday night, however, the Penguins rattled off seven unanswered goals to claim a decisive 8-3 victory over their division rivals.
With 11:15 remaining in the second period and Damon Severson already in the penalty box, the Devils committed a too-many men penalty to give the Penguins a two-man advantage. Evgeni Malkin capitalized nine seconds later, blasting a slap shot from the point past New Jersey goaltender Cory Schneider.
Once ignited, the Penguins offense never stopped firing. A Simon Despres pass sprung Patric Hornqvist down the right wing and he scored on a snap shot from the faceoff circle to tie the game at 12:42. The team then had to kill Craig Adams’ boarding minor. They were able to do so, and as he exited the penalty box, he corralled a Brandon Sutter pass to take off on a breakaway and beat Schneider to give the Penguins their first lead.
“I tried to slow down a little bit and let my hands catch up to my feet,” said Adams, who had just 17 goals in his seven seasons with the Penguins coming into Tuesday night, after the game, “I tried to pull it and go high [glove-hand side]. I didn’t get it up there, but it got high enough.”
The rout was on at that point as Sidney Crosby added a goal late in the second period and Devils head coach Peter DeBoer changed goaltenders in the intermission, going with veteran Scott Clemmensen. Schneider had allowed five goals on 23 shots for a dismal .782 save percentage.
Clemmensen faired no better, as the Penguins piled on with power play goals from Pascal Dupuis and Steve Downie. Crosby’s second goal of the night capped the scoring at 18:49 of the third period. Clemmensen saved only seven of the ten shots he faced in the third period.
The Devils committed an uncharacteristic seven penalties, and the Penguins’ top-ranked power play struck three times. The Penguins are now firing at 40.6% on the man advantage, which is 13.9% better than second-ranked Arizona.
The game got off to a terrible start for the Penguins, as Devils forward Danius Zubrus beat Fleury to give his team the lead before most fans were even in their seats. Blake Comeau evened the score for the Penguins later in the first period.
The game’s early momentum hinged on a video review early in the second frame. With the Penguins on the power play, Schneider appeared to have drawn the puck back into his net underneath his left pad. The play was not stopped, and Jacob Josefson intercepted a Crosby pass and scored on a breakaway. The referees could not overturn the call on the ice due to inconclusive video evidence, and the Devils had regained the lead. Tuomo Ruuttu scored three minutes later to give them a two-goal advantage.
Marc-Andre Fleury recovered after his shaky start, in which he allowed goals on two of the Devils’ first eleven shots, to stop the final eight shots he saw and hold on for the win. He was aided by the Penguins’ excellent penalty kill, which allowed only one shot on three chances and has now killed 18 consecutive penalties.
With the victory, Pittsburgh leapfrogged New Jersey in the Metropolitan Division standings and climbed from sixth to second. They now sit one point back of the division-leading New York Islanders. The Penguins return to action at Consol Energy Center Thursday when they will host the reigning Stanley Cup champion Los Angeles Kings.
Photo credit: Pittsburgh Penguins