Last night, the New Jersey Devils defeated the Pittsburgh Penguins 4-2 at the Prudential Center, effectively halting their three-game losing streak. Normally, a team and its fans would be elated with such a win, but this was different. When Taylor Hall was named the game’s first star after a four-point performance, he didn’t seem excited in his post-game interview. Instead, he seemed relieved, and I’m sure Devils fans everywhere felt the same.
Anyone who knows hockey knows the Pittsburgh Penguins. They’re an automatic threat against any team in the league…except the New Jersey Devils.
Pittsburgh hasn’t defeated the Devils in regulation since 2017, but even prior to this hex, New Jersey has performed favorably against the team in Steel City. This is surprising when you look at how the teams fared overall the last few years, with the Penguins being a regular playoff contender, while New Jersey has largely been a borderline basement team.
So, why does Jersey’s team seen to always have Pittsburgh’s number?
1. Home ice records: In my pregame article, I mentioned the Devils have a lifetime winning record against the Penguins in Newark. Ever since the Prudential Center opened, Pittsburgh has been 11-15 across the Jersey border. Having said that, the Devils are faring fairly well in Pittsburgh. Only twice since the Prudential Center’s 2007 opening have the Devils had a losing record against Pittsburgh, both at home and away. Those seasons were 2010-2011 and 2016-2017—two of New Jersey’s worst in the last decade.
2. Getting and maintaining leads: So far this season, it’s been a familiar sight for the Devils: either score first and/or establish an early lead. Sounds good, until the lead is blown and they lose in heartbreaking fashion. Two of the only exceptions were their games against Pittsburgh, where the Devils both scored first and never surrendered the lead. Tuesday’s effort was too close for comfort at times, but the Devils never trailed during those 60 minutes.
3. New Hires: In 2015, the hockey world was shocked when then-General Manager Lou Lamoriello stepped down from the role, after nearly 30 years at the helm. Who was his replacement? Former Pittsburgh Penguins General Manager Ray Shero, who was the architect behind so many teams led by the likes of Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin. Who did Shero choose to coach the post-Lamoriello Devils? Pittsburgh’s AHL affiliate Head Coach John Hynes. By no means did Hynes and Shero waltz into New Jersey with a book called “101 Ways To Beat The Pittsburgh Penguins”, but the effect these new hires had on Devils-Penguins matchups is undoubtedly playing a significant role.
4. Everyone steps up: My first Devils-Penguins game I saw in person was a St. Patrick’s Day matchup back in 2015. By mid-March that season, the Penguins were already poised for another postseason run, while the Devils buried in the basement. That game ended in a 2-0 shutout for the Devils. Those two goals didn’t come off as outstanding, highlight reel offensive performances, but was won with superb goaltending in a shutout performance by Corey Schneider. What the point of that season? When they face the Eastern Conference betting favorites, there’s always a few Devils who rise above the occasion that make the necessary contributions to secure victories. Need other examples? Look at former Devils players Scott Wedgewood’s NHL debut in the form of a 3-0 shut out in 2016-2017. If that’s not enough just turn back the clock to last week when third line mainstay Brian Boyle registered a hat trick in the Steel City. Tuesday night may not have produced any spectacular performances from unexpected players, but did see a four-point performance out of Taylor Hall.
So far, the Devils are 2-0-0 against Pittsburgh this season. They have two more matchups against them on January 28th and February 19th. So far, the Devils have guaranteed themselves at least a .500 record against Crosby and his friends. Safe to say, the trend could very well continue.