– by Adesina O. Koiki
A Lot of Sports Talk editor-in-chief
NEWARK, NJ — Remaining the only perfect team in the National Hockey League on the young season required the New Jersey Devils to overcome a host of imperfections during what turned out to be an uphill climb against a perennial championship contender.
New Jersey’s two biggest constants so far, the goal-scoring prowess of forward Kyle Palmieri and the stalwart goalkeeping of Keith Kinkaid, came through for a third game running to lift the Devils to a third win in three to start the season, a 3-2 come-from-behind victory over the San Jose Sharks inside the Prudential Center on Sunday afternoon.
The Devils came back twice from being a goal down as Palmieri scored New Jersey’s first two goals of the game for a third game running, including stuffing home a rebound off of a shot from defenseman Andy Greene 37 seconds into the third period to tie the score at 2-2. Of New Jersey’s 14 goals scored on the season, six have come from the Long Island native, who did not score his sixth goal of last season until January.
“It’s good. I think the way we’re playing, the way we played the first two periods tonight and being able to come out there and get two points and be 3-and-0 after our first full week of games was the start we were looking for and hopefully we keep that going,” Palmieri said.
Fourth-line right winger Jean-Sebastien Dea, playing in his third-ever game in a Devil uniform, gave New Jersey its first lead of the game less than three minutes after Palmieri’s second equalizer, pushing home the puck that squirted through Martin Jones and onto the crease after a point shot from defenseman Mirco Mueller.
Kinkaid made the lead stand up and was especially steadfast in the final 2:41 of the game, making six saves, including two on point-blank opportunities in front of the net by Evander Kane when the Sharks were on a late power play and had pulled goalkeeper Martin Jones. Just seconds later, Kinkaid made back-to-back saves on shots from the blue line by recently-acquired defenseman Erik Karlsson.
On the night, Kinkaid stopped 37 of San Jose’s 39 shots, including 16 in a scoreless first period.
“Things weren’t going the way we wanted in the first two periods. Coach [John Hynes] came in and just said we gotta stay with it,” Kinkaid said. “We got to make our own breaks. Guys that are maybe having an off night, they contributed in the third period. The whole team was out there blocking shots, doing the right thing, the PK was huge and, obviously, the 6-on-4 kill was tremendous.”
San Jose tilted the ice early to its favor despite not being able to find their way past Kinkaid on 16 shots on goal in the first period. The Sharks broke through early in the second, with Joe Pavelski scoring at the doorstep on a rebound off a shot by Brent Burns at the 3:51 mark of the second period.
The momentum gained from the goal was short-lived, as the Sharks soon committed two penalties in a span of 44 seconds — a delay of game on Burns and a goaltender interference on Melker Karlsson — to find themselves down two men. New Jersey capitalized on the ensuing 5-on-3, with Palmieri receiving a cross-ice pass from last season’s Hart Trophy winner, Taylor Hall, before firing a wrist shot from the left circle that caught a piece of Sharks goalkeeper Martin Jones before bouncing into the net to tie the game at 7:06 of the second.
Just before the end of the second, San Jose took the lead once more, this time on a bit of fortune. Logan Couture cut inside into the high slot from the right wing, but then lost possession of the puck. However, it bounced right into the path of an onrushing Timo Meier, who quickly sent a forehand shot high past Kinkaid for a 2-1 lead with 4:25 left in the period.
By the end of the second, San Jose was outshooting New Jersey 29-18 but had just a one-goal lead to protect in the final 20 minutes.
“We felt like we just didn’t play with enough speed and that we didn’t manage the puck well in the second period,” Hynes said. “It was a one-goal game. We had some chances in the second that didn’t going in, they had one that did. We felt like we were right there in the game. But if we cleaned up our puck play and we are able to bring more energy to our team and bring energy to the building with the way that we play [in the third period], we would be able to come out and try to find a way to win the game. And credit to the guys, they did exactly that.”
San Jose ended its four-game East Coast road trip 1-2-1, losing all three games to the teams in the New York City area. (The Sharks defeated Philadelphia 8-2 on Tuesday.) Pavelski’s goal gave him 700 career points, becoming the third Sharks player in team history to score at least 700 points, joining Joe Thornton (974) and Patrick Marleau (1,082).