PITTSBURGH (AP)Jesper Bratt scored on a third-period penalty shot to spoil Sidney Crosby’s season debut and help the New Jersey Devils beat the Pittsburgh Penguins 4-2 on Saturday night.
Crosby pulled down Bratt in the slot with three minutes left, leading to the deciding penalty shot. Bratt skated to the right and beat goalie Tristan Jarry with a backhander.
”It was just nice that it went in, finally,” Bratt said. ”It’s been a little struggle to put the puck in the back of the net.”
Crosby sat out the Penguins’ first seven games after undergoing wrist surgery Sept. 8. Jeff Carter, who also played Saturday for Pittsburgh, missed three games after entering the NHL’s COVID-19 protocol following a confirmed positive test.
”It’s always an interesting dynamic when you bring players back into the lineup,” Penguins coach Mike Sullivan said. ”Everyone has to think of making a positive impact on the game. I didn’t think we did that as a team tonight.”
Andreas Johnsson scored twice for New Jersey, including an empty-net goal with 1:43 left. Jimmy Vesey had a short-handed goal.
Jonathan Bernier made 33 saves for the Devils, who opened the season with four wins in their first six games. Bernier kept it tied at 2 in the third with two key power-play saves. He made a glove save on Jake Guentzel and had a post-to-post one-timer stop on Kasperi Kapanen.
”We came from a game we weren’t happy with,” Johnsson said. ”I feel like, from the start, you could see every guy was prepared to do the job.”
Danton Heinen scored his fourth and Brock McGinn his second for Pittsburgh. The Penguins have been outscored 13-3 in three straight losses after starting the season on a five-game points streak. Jarry made 36 saves.
”I don’t think we played well,” Sullivan said. ”I thought we had moments, I thought we pushed in the third period. For me, we weren’t good enough as a team and I thought our attention to detail wasn’t good.”
Heinen opened the scoring for Pittsburgh at 12:23 of the first period. Defenseman Juuso Riikola, playing his first NHL game in nine months, helped set up the goal with a secondary assist. It was his first point since Jan. 12, 2020, at Arizona. Heinen has four goals in eight games for Pittsburgh after scoring seven times in 43 games last season in Anaheim.
Crosby was critical of his play in his first game back after wrist surgery.
The Penguins’ captain was a minus-3, after finishing with two shots in 19:16.
”I love being back out there with the guys, but ultimately you want to win and play well and that didn’t happen,” Crosby said. ”I have some improving to do.”
Crosby tripped Bratt, which led to the winning penalty shot. He also mishandled a pass to defenseman John Marino on the power play in the second period, allowing Vesey to score his short-handed goal.
”We all have high expectations of him,” Sullivan said. ”It’s not easy to jump into a regular season NHL game when you go through what he went through. He expects a lot out of himself. I think he’s going to get better with each game he plays.”
Crosby also finished 8 of 23 in the faceoff circle. Crosby previously said he needed to be able to manage faceoffs before playing his first game.
”I felt better in practice than I did tonight,” Crosby said. ”I just didn’t win enough. It’s not my wrist. I just didn’t get it done.”
Crosby returned to his familiar spot as Pittsburgh’s first-line center, alongside Evan Rodrigues and Guentzel. Crosby, in his 17th NHL season, tied Hall of Fame owner Mario Lemieux for most played with the Penguins.
Carter will anchor the second line with Evgeni Malkin out of the lineup until at least December while recovering from knee surgery in June. Carter filled in on the Penguins’ top line for the first four games of the season in Crosby’s absence. He’s one game from 1,100 in the NHL.
Malkin and forward Bryan Rust are skating on their own, while defenseman Kris Letang remains in the COVID-19 protocol following a confirmed positive test. Rust is week-to-week with a lower-body injury.
DEVILS INJURY UPDATE
Bernier returned to the lineup after missing three games with a lower-body injury. Goaltender Mackenzie Blackwood is also nearing a return from a lower-body injury.
Jack Hughes will be sidelined for at least another five weeks with a dislocated left shoulder. Hughes, the No. 1 overall pick in the 2019 draft, was hurt Oct. 19 against Seattle in the Devils’ second game of the season. Hughes scored two goals in the Devils’ season-opening win against Chicago, including the winner in overtime.
Devils: Host Columbus on Sunday night.
Penguins: Host Philadelphia on Thursday night.