PITTSBURGH - Nothing has come easy this season for the New Jersey Devils. Except, that is, when they play the Pittsburgh Penguins.
Then, the power play clicks. The penalty kill, too. The goals they’ve struggled to score all season come in bunches. Throw in Keith Kinkaid’s steady play in net and the gear New Jersey has been unable to find much of the year suddenly reappears when Pittsburgh is on the other side of the ice.
“It’s just one of those things,” Kinkaid said. “I guess we match up well against them. We always have our A game.”
Travis Zajac had a goal and three assists, Kinkaid made 37 saves and the Devils had little trouble in a 6-3 victory over Pittsburgh on Monday night to improve to 6-0-1 in their last seven meetings with the Penguins. New Jersey has drilled Pittsburgh in each of their three meetings this season, outscoring the Penguins 15-5 in the process.
“Everyone looked fresh,” Kinkaid said. “Everyone was moving. Everybody was flying out there and playing good defensively. The PK was solid, our special teams were solid. We just have to be consistent and that starts from me out to consistency the rest of the way.”
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 Pittsburgh, which has 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 and the Penguins gave up their league-leading 11th short-handed goal of the season.
“I think they’ve just outworked us, plain and simple,” said Pittsburgh captain Sidney Crosby, held scoreless two days after winning the MVP award at the All-Star Game. “You look at the games, they’ve worked harder, they’ve deserved it. As disappointing as that is and as much as you don’t like saying that, it’s the truth.”
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 a team well off the pace in the crowded Eastern Conference playoff picture 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 fired a shot past 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.
Flyers 3, Jets 1
In Philadelphia, Phil Varone, Travis Konecny and James van Riemsdyk scored to lead the Flyers to their season-high fourth straight win by beating Winnipeg.
Carter Hart has won all four of those games in goal for Philadelphia and has been a needed spark of optimism for one of the worst teams in the NHL. He stopped 31 shots and won his seventh game since his late-December call-up.
Varone knocked in his second goal of the season midway through the second period for a 1-0 lead. Jack Roslovic tied it on a deflection.
Konecny snapped the tie on a redirection past Laurent Brossoit with 1:14 left in the second for his 13th goal of the season. Hart made the lead stand up and van Riemsdyk scored late in the game to help the Flyers build a modest winning streak against four teams with winning records.
Philadelphia opened the second half of the season aware that these could be the final games together for a core group of veterans that have little to show for several seasons of solid individual statistics — and no deep playoff run.
“We have good players,” Flyers general manager Chuck Fletcher said. “We haven’t been a good team.”