Fans were worried when the Pittsburgh Penguins announced both Sidney Crosby and Jeff Carter would make their season debuts against the New Jersey Devils. The Penguins have been an impressive team out the gate without their superstar forwards, and the Devils have struggled the past couple of games. It turns out there was nothing to worry about as New Jersey secured their fourth win of the season at PPG Paints Arena.
Every single Devils player on the bench last night showed up and contributed their part. Like previous wins this season, it was a team effort that secured the two points. Jonathan Bernier made his return from a lower-body injury and Jesper Bratt finally got on the scoreboard in a big way. Let’s break down some takeaways from last night’s victory over the Penguins.
Jonathan Bernier Returns
Devils fans were relieved to learn both Jonathan Bernier and MacKenzie Blackwood made the trip to Pittsburgh. Bernier got the call to start against the Penguins and led his team out of the tunnel for the start of the game. Before his lower-body injury, he won two games with a save percentage of .911 and a goals-against average of 2.48.
He faced 35 shots and made 33 saves. From the first puck drop, he was dialed in and looked like he hasn’t missed a beat. He made nine saves during the first period, including a 3-on-2 rush from the Penguins that featured Crosby and
Jake Guentzel. In the second period, he was perfect again, stopping all nine shots faced. In the final period of play, Brock McGinn of the Penguins scored in the first few minutes of play to tie the game. Bernier’s shining moment was during the Penguins’ power play. Crosby passed the puck to Guentzel and Bernier slid across the crease to make the glove save. Pittsburgh registered 17 shots on goal in the third period, and the Devils goaltender stopped every one of them.
“He was awesome,” said Jesper Bratt after the game. “He was a game changer for us too. To have him back, and he really saved us for 60 minutes out there. He was great and it was awesome for us to have him back in the lineup, and he was a huge part of why we walked away with two points.”
Devils’ Perfect Penalty Kill
The Devils’ penalty kill has been inconsistent so far this season. The team has given up a power-play goal in four of their seven games played. Last night, they were perfect when playing with a man down. Forward Jimmy Vesey scored a shorthanded goal in the second period that showcased not only his speed but skill as well.
“It was a big goal for us, said head coach Lindy Ruff to the media. “There were two or three opportunities before that to take the lead, and I thought Jimmy would get the opportunity and he puts in the back of the net. I thought it changed momentum.”
Vesey had another shorthanded opportunity later in the game that he was not able to convert on. It seems like yesterday that the 28-year-old stood at the podium at Devils media day and explained he is playing for his life. Last season, he was traded from the Toronto Maple Leafs to the Vancouver Canucks. He played 20 games in Vancouver, earning three assists in that time. This season, he has appeared in all six Devils games and already has two assists.
Jesper Bratt Finds the Back of the Net
Is it too dramatic to say last night that redemption was spelled B-R-A-T-T? Probably, but regardless, it was great to see Bratt get on the scoreboard. He earned the primary assist on Andreas Johnsson’s first-period goal and scored the game-winning goal in the third period.
With three minutes left in the third period, Bratt was taken down by Crosby and was awarded a penalty shot. Looking a little banged up after he landed in Pittsburgh’s net, he skated to the bench to catch his breath before he attempted his penalty shot. He deked the Penguins’ goaltender and got the puck into the back of the net. After the game, he told the media he knew right away what he was going to do, and it clearly worked.
“There was a little relief,” said Bratt. “I finally got it in the back of the net. It was just nice that it went in finally, it’s been a little struggle for me to the puck in the back of the net. It was a relief.”
The Devils record is 4-2-0, and the good news is they are slowly getting players back from injury. New Jersey will be facing Columbus tonight at 5:00 P.M. It will be a tough task to play back-to-back, but if yesterday showed anything, it is that if every player shows up and does their job, they should be celebrating a Halloween victory.
Kristy has been contributing to The Hockey Writers since March of 2021. She is thrilled to be putting her journalism degree to use and is a credentialed correspondent covering the New Jersey Devils. Kristy is also a member of the Professional Hockey Writers Association. You can follow her journey on Twitter @InStilettos_NHL and Instagram SkatingInStilettos.