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Back on the Right Track (Devils in These Details; 02.03.18)

Robert Cole/ALOST

 

akoiki-passport2 – by Adesina O. Koiki
A Lot of Sports Talk editor-in-chief

 

NEWARK, NJ — The New Jersey Devils ended their first week back on the ice since the All-Star Break against the hottest team in the National Hockey League in the month of January. The calendar now reads February, however, and the Devils’ performance on Saturday, and in the past three games, may portend to New Jersey once again getting on a hot streak.

The line of left winger Blake Coleman, center Travis Zajac and right winger Stefan Noesen played a huge part in all three goals while the Devils’ defense only allowed 16 shots on goal as New Jersey defeated the Pittsburgh Penguins 3-1 at the Prudential Center, extending its winning streak to three games. The Devils had gone into the All-Star Break losing 10 of 12, but now look as if they are starting to regain the form that has kept them at or near the top of the hyper-competitive Metropolitan Division all season.

Zajac scored twice, including the first goal of the game just 30 seconds into the second period to give the Devils a lead that they would not relinquish. The win also put the Devils back in second place in the Metropolitan, one point ahead of the Penguins, a team that had won nine of their 12 games in the month of January to rapidly climb the standings.

“These are big because you want to create as much separation as you can, especially as the year goes on,” said Zajac, who had his second multi-goal game of the season. “It’s nice to get these wins, keep improving and we’re going to have to win a lot more games.”

After a scoreless first period, New Jersey took advantage of a mistake by Penguins rookie goaltender Casey DeSmith to go in front. Zajac intercepted a clearing attempt from DeSmith close to the net, and then was able to stuff the puck underneath the rookie’s left pad and into the net to open the scoring.

Another Penguins miscue set up the Devils’ second goal, as Pittsburgh defenseman Olli Maatta failed to clear the puck out of the zone, allowing Zajac to gain possession of the puck and find Noesen near the goal line. Noesen dropped a pass off to a cutting Coleman, whose wrist shot went in between the right arm and body of DeSmith to double New Jersey’s lead just 2:35 after Zajac’s opener.

Noesen, who had two assists, also set the tone for the Devils emotionally, as he got into a fight with Pittsburgh’s Ian Cole late in the first period after a goalmouth scrum for the puck in front of DeSmith.

Pittsburgh cut the Devils’ lead in half early in the third period on Evgeni Malkin’s 29th goal of he season at the 6:16 mark, but New Jersey regained its two-goal advantage 3:35 after the Penguins’ tally, as Zajac scored his second of the game by deflecting a shot from defenseman Damon Severson past DeSmith.

Pittsburgh’s 16 shots on goal were a season low as they were outshot 38-16. The Penguins did not generate more than six shots on goal in any period, and only had four shots on goal during the second period in which New Jersey scored the game’s first two goals.

“When you don’t play committed, you don’t play hard, you get outplayed, you are not going to win,” said Penguins head coach Mike Sullivan. “We got outplayed. It’s pretty simple. They wanted it more. They won every loose puck battle. They were quicker with their second-man-to-the-puck battles. For whatever reason, we didn’t have any jump tonight…We deserved to lose.”

Keith Kinkaid, continuing to start in goal for the Devils as Cory Schneider recovers from a groin injury, made 15 saves as he recorded his career-high 10th win of the campaign.

*Editor’s note: Above the byline is the photo gallery from Saturday night’s game, with all photos taken by ALOST’s senior photographer, Robert Cole. After clicking on the first photo to enlarge the picture, make sure to press the left and right arrow buttons to scroll through the rest of the pictures. There are currently six pictures in the gallery.

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