PITTSBURGH — Travis Zajac had a goal and three assists, Keith Kinkaid made 37 saves and the New Jersey Devils had little trouble in a 6-3 victory over the sluggish Pittsburgh Penguins on Monday night.
Pavel Zacha, Damon Severson, Brian Boyle, Blake Coleman and Kyle Palmieri also scored as New Jersey snapped a three-game skid. The NHL’s worst road team improved to 6-17-3 away from home. Two of those wins have come at the expense of the Penguins, who have dropped four of five overall and looked a step slow following a nine-day break.
Derick Brassard got his ninth goal for Pittsburgh before being ejected in the third period for elbowing. Matt Cullen and Bryan Rust added late goals after the game was decided. Matt Murray allowed six goals on 32 shots as the Penguins began the stretch run with another clunker against the Devils.
New Jersey came in tied with Ottawa at the bottom of the Eastern Conference but improved to 3-0 against Pittsburgh, outscoring the Penguins by a combined 15-5.
The first two wins came during the opening six weeks of the season, a time when the Penguins were enduring another sloppy start. After a surge through December that pushed Pittsburgh comfortably back into playoff position, the Penguins find themselves in the midst of another slide.
Pittsburgh limped into the All-Star break following a 2-3 West Coast trip, each loss coming in a game in which they surrendered at least five goals thanks in large part to sloppy play in front of the net.
A chance to reset at home against one of the Eastern Conference’s also-rans didn’t exactly go as planned.
The Devils, like the Penguins coming off a week-plus layoff, showed more jump from the outset and it resulted in an early lead when Zajac took a feed from Steven Santini at the top of the left circle and beat a screened Murray 13:08 into the first period.
Severson doubled the advantage less than two minutes later when he cruised uncontested through the neutral zone and beat Murray from high in the slot with a shot that nicked Murray’s glove before settling into the net.
Kinkaid withstood power-play opportunities by the Penguins to preserve the lead, and Boyle and Zacha’s aggressive forecheck on the penalty kill set up Boyle’s short-handed goal 3:30 into the second that put the Devils up 3-0. The goal was the 11th allowed by Pittsburgh with the man advantage, most in the NHL.
Brassard responded less than 90 seconds later to get the Penguins back within two, but Coleman’s rocket from the right circle 12:57 into the second restored the three-goal edge and the Devils cruised from there.
Brassard’s night ended 9:12 into the third period when he lined up Sami Vatanen along the end boards behind the New Jersey net. Vatanen tumbled to the ice and referees gave Brassard a five-minute major for boarding and a game misconduct.
NOTES: The Devils went 2 for 5 on the power play. The Penguins were 0 for 5. … The Penguins scratched D Chad Ruhwedel. New Jersey scratched Ds Egor Yakovlev and Cory Schneider, and F Kurtis Gabriel. … Penguins captain Sidney Crosby was held scoreless in 20:32 of ice time two days after being selected MVP of the All-Star Game.
Devils: Face the rival New York Rangers for the first time this season at home on Thursday.
Penguins: Host the NHL-leading Tampa Bay Lightning on Wednesday.
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Will Graves, The Associated Press