The Time: 7:00 PM EST
The Broadcast: TV - MSG+(HD); Radio - 660 AM WFAN
The Last Devils Game: The New Jersey Devils concluded their 3-game road trip in Long Islander for an afternoon matinee on Monday. In continuing their unlikely performances of scoring a whole bunch of goals in a game, the Devils put up 5 in the first two periods of the game en route to a 5-2 win over the Islanders. Tom had the recap, wondering whether he just saw the Bizzaro Devils play.
The Last Penguins Game: The Penguins hosted the Detroit Red Wings on Tuesday night and weren't fazed at all. They came away big winners, winning 4-1 over Detroit at the New Igloo. All without Sidney Crosby, too. JustinM at Pensburgh has this recap of the win, noting the home team's goals, grit, and glory.
The Last Devils-Penguins Game: Sidney Crosby was in this game, and he was, well, himself. Crosby had 7 shots on net, attempted 12, picked up an assist, and scored a goal in a 2-1 win in Pittsburgh back on December 6, 2010. It was a game littered with penalties and saves, ending with the familiar disappointment I felt throughout December. My recap of the loss is here; a happier account from the winning team's perspective by FrankD is here at Pensburgh. The Devils are 0-2 against the Penguins this season.
The Goal: Normally, when the opposition has a star player or two, extra focus is paid attention to them. They are stars because they have excellent skills who can torch opposing players seamingly easy. The Penguins won't have their aces tonight as Crosby (concussion) and Evgeni Malkin (the dreaded undisclosed injury) are out for tonight. The goal remains to keep aware for the 60 minutes, as the rest of this Pittsburgh team is still pretty strong. They won their third straight (two on the road) and they've been racking up these wins all season due to their strong 5-on-5 play. According to Behind the Net, the team's tied for eighth in save percentage at 5-on-5 (92.5%) and tied for the sixth lowest in opposition save percentage (91%). Unlike Tampa Bay and the Islanders, the Penguins have been quite effective the most common situation in hockey. As useful as Malkin and Crosby have been to that cause, that result isn't all on those two alone. Therefore, the Devils need keep their focus in spite of not having #87 or #71 coming at them unless they want the rest of this team to mess them up on their home ice.
I have a few more thoughts on tonight's game after the jump. For a Pittsburgh-esque take, please check out Pensburgh.
As I inferred in The Goal, I don't expect for them to drop off the map because Crosby and Malkin aren't in one game. The Penguins have done pretty well with the league's leading scorer on the injured list (yes, he still leads the league in scoring with 66 points) and it's not like Malkin's been carrying the team in their last 3 wins with an assist in each of their last two games. Useful, sure, but not a rock for them to lie on. The most dangerous player for Pittsburgh, in my opinion, is Kris Letang.
|2010-11 - Kris Letang||47||7||33||40||22||56||3||0||2||140||5.0|
He may be rolling with Crosby plenty to pick up a lot of those points, but he is the team's second leading scorer and a force from the blueline. Per Behind the Net's 5-on-5 stats, he faces a positive quality of competition (third behind Brooks Orpik and Ben Lovejoy) and has managed a good Corsi rate relative to quality of competition (behind Brooks Orpik.). But unlike Orpik, Letang brings offensive skills to the table. He can and will jump up on offense whether to make plays or bomb some shots on net to create more havok. As evidence from Behind the Net, when he's on the ice, the goals for per 60 minutes at 5-on-5 for Pittsburgh jumps from 2.36 to 3.53. The backchecking forwards on New Jersey must be aware of where he is when the play gets in their end. Leaving him open at the point or creeping into the slot is just asking for trouble.
While I think Letang's the most dangerous, there are other Penguins for New Jersey to be wary of tonight. Chris Kunitz has a 3-game goal streak, bringing his totals this season to 16. Kunitz has been shooting at an unbelievable 17.6% this season, and he'll get the chance to shoot more pucks tonight. When Paul Martin steps on the ice, despite a below-zero quality of competition, shots against just die (28.0 SA/60 for Pittsburgh when he's off, 23.4 SA/60 when he's on. Yeah, a difference of nearly 5 shots per 60.). Pascal Dupuis, Matt Cooke, Tyler Kennedy, and Mark Letestu aren't household names, but they bring grit, energy, and hints of scoring touch have scored 9 goals each - except for Kennedy who only has 7 (and 126 shots on net). Top Devils forwards will see plenty of Brooks Orpik and his pain-inducing body-checks, as he draws the tough minutes on the blueline.
Behind all of them, there is Marc-Andre Fleury. Needless to say, he's been pretty good this season. Assuming he plays tonight, he'll give the Devils forwards plenty of problems. Just as he did in the previous Devils-Penguins game. By no means is he playing like the guy who was miserable in his first 8 games of the season. I wouldn't even recommend trying to get him to roam around behind the net; I'm sure the coaches have talked to The Man Nicknamed Flower about that anyway.
|2010-11 - Marc-Andre Fleury||35||2015||20||11||77||2.29||968||891||.920||1|
The main point for all of this is that even without Malkin and Crosby, the Penguins will still present a challenge to the Devils tonight. They aren't sieves at 5-on-5 and they didn't get to where they are just because of two players. Granted, two of the best hockey players in the world, but it's not totally all on them. The Devils players and coaches won't look past the rest of the team, I invite you to avoid downplaying the Pens tonight.
Incidentally, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette's Shelly Anderson reports that Malkin's undisclosed injury is possibly an undisclosed leg injury and that Wilkes-Barre forward and AHL scorer Dustin Jeffrey has been called up to replace him.
On to the Devils, they practiced on Wednesday and Tom Gulitti's report from practice indicates no changes to the lineup that played on Monday. I have no problems with that. If anyone proved that they deserved another NHL game on Monday, it was Mattias Tedenby. He had a productive day of hustling against the Isles and I look forward to see how he does in a second game back in the lineup. Especially on a line with Jason Arnott and Vladimir Zharkov. The sheer speed from the wings may be enough to give Pittsburgh's defense problems. For those of you watching tonight's game, pay attention to who Lemaire matches this line up against. Even if they don't score, just forcing the play in Pittsburgh over and over may force Dan Bylsma to make some adjustments - which could turn out beneficial for the rest of New Jersey's forwards.
As for the defense, I'm sure Mark Fraser won't make two costly decisions that put him out of position on both goals against the Islanders. Critical as I may sound, Fraser's done OK in a physical defenseman role up until Monday's game. But those are correctable errors, not a fault of lack of talent or just an unfortunate situation. I look forward to see whether he learned from that moreso than hoping he (somehow) gets two assists in the game.
Speaking of production, I'd love to see the Devils really take it to the Penguins right from the start with loads of shots. Martin Brodeur's quote, reported here by Gulitti, after Wednesday's practice is spot on - the team's offense has carried the day even when things have gone wrong. Doing whatever can be done to continue that is quite important. While Devils have scored 18 goals in their last 4 games, 16 of them went against two of the worst defensive teams in the league. There's something to be said for getting confidence back in scoring, but the competition hasn't exactly been the best. Getting more than just a few past Pittsburgh, a team in the top-third in 5-on-5 save percentage, would be rather impressive.
In fact, tonight may be an excellent night for the power play. According to NHL.com, the Penguins have been shorthanded more than any other team this season and they average 15.9 PIM per game, the highest rate in the league. So much for Philadelphia being the "toughest" team in Pennsylvania. Of course, even if the Penguins give away 5-on-4 chances like free hard candy at a parade, it won't be easy at all. On top of New Jersey's own power play sketchiness, the Penguins boast the best penalty killing success rate in the league at 85.7%.
Martin Brodeur is the likely starter for tonight, which is fine with me since Martin Brodeur has played like Martin Brodeur as of late. The start would be his fifth straight. You know, if Brodeur starts in two of the three remaining games this month after tomorrow, then do I get to write one awesome "I told you so" post?
The Gamethread will be up later, closer to game time. In the meantime, please feel free to discuss today's game in the comments. If you want to post any news updates (or corrections or what-have-you), then please do so in the comments with a link to the source. Lastly, thank you for reading. Let's go, Devils.