PITTSBURGH — Jesper Bratt scored twice in the first six minutes, rookie Nico Daws made 37 saves and the last-place New Jersey Devils drilled the Pittsburgh Penguins 6-1 on Thursday night.
Bratt tapped in a loose puck just 1:16 into the game for his 15th goal of the season and followed with his 16th less than five minutes later to give the Devils a jolt in his return after missing two games with an upper-body injury. Yegor Sharangovich made it 3-0 just 57 seconds after Bratt’s second goal and the Devils cruised from there.
Dawson Mercer, Damon Severson and Nico Hischier also scored for the Devils, who won for just the third time in their last 12 games. The 21-year-old Daws withstood a second-period surge by the Penguins to win for the first time since his NHL debut in October.
Evgeni Malkin scored his seventh of the season for the Penguins, who have suddenly dropped three straight. Tristan Jarry was pulled after Severson’s blast from the point made it 5-1 just past the game’s midway point. The All-Star stopped 14 of the 19 shots he faced, though his biggest problem was shoddy defense that provided the Devils with plenty of open looks.
Pittsburgh has made a habit of sluggish starts of late, and the trend continued against the reeling Devils. A scrum in front of the Pittsburgh net ended with a bouncing puck finding its way to Bratt’s stick. He easily flipped it past an out-of-position Jarry to give the Devils the lead.
Bratt doubled the advantage 5:47 into the first when a tepid clearing attempt by Penguins forward Evan Rodrigues went right to Bratt in the right circle. Bratt rifled a puck by a surprised Jarry to make it 2-0.
New Jersey defenseman P.K. Subban corralled another lethargic clearing attempt — this one by Pittsburgh defenseman Marcus Pettersson — moments later. Subban fed it to a wide-open Sharangovich right in front and Sharangovich easily beat Jarry to make it 3-0 just 6:44 into the game.
Penguins coach Mike Sullivan called timeout and immediately ripped into his club. The lashing seemed to give his team a lift, but Dows, who came in with a modest .862 save percentage in four appearances, stood his ground.
The German’s best work came in the opening half of the second period. Pittsburgh pinned New Jersey in its own end for extended stretched and fired off 10 straight shots. Dows turned aside each one and Mercer made it 4-0 when Hughes forced a turnover by Pettersson behind the Penguins net and fed Mercer racing in front.
Malkin’s power-play goal at 11:13 of the second pulled Pittsburgh within 4-1, but only briefly. Severson responded with a power-play goal of his own just over two minutes later to chase Jarry.
The Penguins have not led at any point during their three-game slide that started with a listless road loss to Toronto and followed by a home setback against Carolina that ceded first place in the competitive Metropolitan Division to the Hurricanes.
Given three days off to prepare for the Devils, Pittsburgh fell flat and matched their worst loss of the season, a 6-1 drubbing in Washington in November.