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Game 17 Preview: New Jersey Devils @ Pittsburgh Penguins - 11/12/2009

The Time: 7:30 PM EST

The Broadcasting Info: MSG+ for the TV; 660 AM WFAN for the radio

The Matchup: The New Jersey Devils (12-4-0) @ the Pittsburgh Penguins (12-6-0)

The Last Devils Game: The New Jersey Devils beat the Anaheim Ducks 3-1.  New Jersey won their sixth straight game, improved their home record to 4-4, and took the Atlantic Division lead away from Pittsburgh.  How? A tip-in from Jamie Langenbrunner, a sweet toe drag from David Clarkson, and a Zach Parise shorty.  I recapped last night's game here.

The Last Penguins Game: After getting shutout by the San Jose Sharks 5-0, the Penguins took charge on the ice shutout by Boston 3-0. Ouch.  Pittsburgh lost another defender, Brooks Orpik, to injury early on; and the Bruins went up and held off the Penguins.  Hooks Orpik of Pensburgh has a recap of the unfortunate evening.

The Last Devils-Penguins Game: Would you believe the Devils decisively defeated a then 9-game-winning-streak-enjoying Pittsburgh Penguins 4-1 in their building?  Well, you should because that's exactly what happened. Steve has the recap of that one because I was enjoying a rare NY Red Bulls win with an ultra-rare 5-0 score while being hit with close to an inch of rain. Frank has the Penguins perspective of that game in this recap.

The Goal: Repeat history.  The last time the Devils went to the Igloo, they knocked off the then-hottest team in the entire league with a decisive 4-1 win. (And I missed it due to aforementioned Red Bulls game.) Granted, the Devils got a few breaks their way. I do not expect Marc-Andre Fleury to bat a Mark Fraser shot into the net.  But every time the Penguins thought they had all the answers, the Devils went ahead and changed all the questions - and scored another goal.   While the Devils had Paul Martin, Johnny Oduya, Rob Niedermayer, and Jay Pandolfo in that win; they would do well to remember all the little and big things they did to beat the Penguins.  Since that game, the Penguins have looked more normal and dropped a few games while remaining the league-leading team.  The Devils have bested them once before and they can do it again if they can have history repeat itself.  It won't be easy, but it can be done.

I think there are two ways to look at the game.

One: The Penguins are loaded with injuries and unlike the Devils, who are also loaded with injuries, they are not handling it well. They haven't scored in their last 120 minutes of hockey and with another injury to Brooks Orpik, the defense is looking particularly ripe for the picking.  The Devils are hot right now, they beat the Penguins in their building earlier this season, they just won by more than one goal last night, and there's no reason why they can't ride momentum to their seventh win.

Two: The Penguins haven't scored in their last 120 minutes of hockey on the road at the end of a four game road trip.  At the Igloo, the Penguins will definitely get a lift from the home crowd.  Moreover, they at the least have this guy leading the offense:

2009 - Sidney Crosby 18 9 7 16 5 31 3 1 2 0 64 14.1

With this guy bringing plenty of points from the blueline:

2009 - Alex Goligoski 18 6 7 13 12 6 1 0 0 0 27 22.2

Both of them are still healthy and could do some damage. Come to think of it, Marc-Andre Fleury is more than talented enough to keep the Pens in and the rest of the team, while depleted, is far too good to go a third straight game without scoring.   With the Devils coming off a game last night, they have to feel some fatigue regardless of the result of the Ducks game.

Basically, you can see this game as a great chance for a victory given the weakened state of the Penguins; or as a tougher game than what it would look like on paper.

Given that the Devils played against Anaheim the night before, news on what will change is a bit up in the air.  According to this post by Tom Gulitti, Patrik Elias and Brian Rolston will make the trip to Pittsburgh, and Martin Brodeur thinks he may be starting.   But that doesn't say as much as one may think. None of this is really decided yet; Jacques Lemaire thinks Elias is fine, Rolston may play, and hasn't decided on the starting goaltender.  It's entirely possible neither forward plays - Elias could be too tired, Rolston could still be out with whatever he has - as both are essentially gameday/gametime decisions. 

I'd keep tabs on Gulitti and Chere for any confirmations on a lineup.  If I were to guess, I think Elias and Rolston will play - leaving probably Andrew Peters to sit; and we could see Matt Corrente debut in Cory Murphy's place.  No offense to Murphy, but, well, Murphy didn't really do much against Anaheim.  Corrente could at the least play the less than 8 minutes Murphy played last night.   Maybe it'll jump start Murphy's game?  I also would guess that Brodeur does start if only to keep the Penguins forwards honest instead of thinking of trying to beat on a backup.

To get some further insight into how the Pittsburgh Penguins, Frank D was very kind to answer some questions I had in advance of tonight's game.

Question #1. In the last Devils-Penguins game, the Devils pretty much had all the answers for the Penguins and enjoyed a rare comfortable victory.  What do you think the Penguins will do differently from that game tonight?

FD: Hopefully score a few goals.  Hopefully not allow many goals.  HOPEFULLY they skate out of this one without a single injury because really I'm starting to lose my mind.  Brooks Orpik went down against the Bruins.  Kris Letang is out two weeks with a shoulder injury.  Tyler Kennedy is out with some unknown ailment.  Sergei Gonchar is still out and recovering from a broken bone in his wrist.  Maxime Talbot and Evgeni Malkin are each recovering from shoulder surgery.  The list is piling up.  So really, you can see the root of my mental breakdown.

Question #2. The Penguins' power play has been successful at a 14.7% rate, the sixth lowest rate in the league.  While I know the Penguins are hurt, why do you think the power play has remained so lackluster?

FD: I'd consider you an optimist my friend, because personally I see it as being 85.3% ineffective.  I think the main reason for such a lackluster PP performance is that the guys making up the top PP line aren't moving the puck very efficiently.  They can't get anything organized and really it just looks like the Sidney Crosby show out there for more than half of it.  Other teams are throwing out their top defensive pairings and shutting the Pens down with ease.  I guess depth is a concern too.  All these injuries don't give many options past that first PP line.  Shut down the first line and you'll likely kill off the penalty.

Question #3. As Paul Martin and Johnny Oduya of the Devils have remained injured, the four veteran defenseman on the roster have played at least 20 minutes a night, with some playing as high as 25-27.  With the injuries to the Penguins' blueline, has Dan Bylsma increased the minutes Alex Goligoski, Brooks Orpik, and other regulars in a similar way or is he spreading out the minutes even with the replacements?

FD: It's hard to say because over the past two games the Pens haven't walked away without an injury to a defenseman.  Before the San Jose game on Saturday the Pens dressed six defenseman: Mark Eaton, Alex Goligoski, Kris Letang, Jay McKee, Brooks Orpik and Martin Skoula.  Goligoski was playing with the flu, Letang left with an injury and McKee received a misconduct in the third.  Before you knew it the Pens were left with only three defensemen to get them through the rest of the game.  Now with Orpik's status questionable and a call up or two likely, I really can't even say who Dan Bylsma will start giving more minutes too.  Hopefully more time doesn't equate to injury because Pittsburgh really can't afford it right now.

Question #4. The Penguins are one of two teams to have a perfect record when they score the first goal of the game.  Usually scoring first is big, but should it be a surprise that the Penguins have won all games so far when they score first?  Or would you say that is more of a coincidence? 

FD: I guess it's a coincidence.  Having seen the Pens blanked in two straight I'd really like to just see them score a goal, let alone many goals to necessitate an entire win.

Question #5. Lastly, do you have a prediction for tonight's game?  Will the Penguins get revenge?

FD: Vengeance?  I don't know.  Let's just say I'm prepared to stomach a depressing outcome and more than willing to accept a positive one.

Big thanks to Frank D.  I'm (somewhat) sympathetic as the injuries are really damaging Pittsburgh and witnessing 120 minutes without scoring is definitely hard to watch.

I'm of the opinion that this will be harder than it looks on paper for the New Jersey Devils.  That said, I can't help but agree with what Zach Parise told Chere last night: they're comfortable and confident on the road.  So I don't doubt that they can't get the job done. I just don't expect Pittsburgh to fall flat on their face for the third straight game in front of their fans.  They may even score first; but as we saw all season, that won't faze the Devils.

I'll be screaming at Rutgers Stadium, likely for the last time this season, so I won't be around for the GameThread or the recap.  Hopefully, history will repeat in that not seeing a Devils @ Penguins game will lead to a comfortable Devils win. That would be nice.  In any case, Steve will be taking care of the GameThread and the recap; doing a good job along the way.  Please leave all comments, updates, questions, and such in the comments for the preview until the GameThread goes live.  Thanks for reading and Go Devils!