The Time: 7:00 PM EST
The Broadcast: TV - MSG+; Radio - 660 AM WFAN
The Matchup: The New Jersey Devils (3-1-1) vs. the Pittsburgh Penguins (5-2-2)
The Last Devils Game: The Devils lost to the Sharks 4-3 in an overtime shootout but got a point despite getting dominated by the Sharks. Outshot by the Sharks 41 to 19, and letting up a goal in the final minute, the Devils should feel lucky to get the point they did. Going to a shootout has quickly become a common occurrence for New Jersey this year and their luck finally ran out as San Jose won the shootout 2-1. John's recap of the game is right below this post and linkable here.
The big news out of the game was the injury to Jacob Josefson, who is out indefinitely with a broken clavicle. It's likely we will see Adam Henrique or another body come up from the AHL to help fill the void left by Josefson's injury.
The Last Penguins Game: No Sidney Crosby, no Evegeni Malkin, no Kris Letang, no problem. Despite injuries and suspensions the Penguins continued their early season success with a 3-1 victory over the Monreal Canadiens. The Pensburgh recap can be viewed here. Hard hitting defenseman Brooks Orpik returned and James Neal tallied his 7th goal of the year for the Penguins. With Neal's early season play, a very steady and underrated defensive unit and stellar special teams play has helped the Penguins race out to a 5-2-2 start. While they aren't playing back-to-back nights like the Devils have, the Penguins have played a league high 9 games so far this season, with their 10th coming tonight vs. New Jersey.
For a Penguins perspective on the game please vistit Pensburgh. I have some more thoughts on the Penguins offense, defense and special teams units after the jump.
Penguins Defensive Unit:
As I said above, this unit is very underrated. They had so much depth last year that they were actually able to move a good defenseman in Alex Goligowski and bring in an offensive player like James Neal. Based on data from last year and this year, the defensive pairings you should see are:
Kris Letang/Brooks Orpik (assuming Orpik is ready to take his normal amount of minutes after returning from injury. If not, than Deryk Engelland will likely be paired with Letang at various points.)
Paul Martin/Zbynek Michalek
Deryk Engelland/Matt Niskanen
Three solid units. They have solid two-way puck movers in Martin and Letang along with solid shutdown defensemen in Orpik and Michalek. Niskanen and Engelland both contribute on the penalty killing units and Niskanen gets some time on the power play.
Matchups will be the key to the Devils creating pressure against either of the top two pairings. Who will Dan Bylsma match against the Parise line? Will it be Martin/Michalek or Letang/Orpik? My hope is that Bylsma matches Letang/Orpik with Parise's line and leaves Martin/Michalek to the Kovalchuk line. I think the Parise line can keep the pressure in the offensive zone on the Penguins against Letang/Orpik (especially if Zubrus is in on RW) while I think Kovalchuk's speed and offensive abilities might be able to create opportunities against Martin/Michalek.
Penguins Offensive Unit:
If, as expected, Crosby (concussion), Tyler Kennedy (concussion), and Evegni Malkin (knee) are out you will likely see the following line combinations:
Chris Kunitz/Jordan Staal/Pascal Dupuis
Steve Sullivan/Richard Park/James Neal
Matt Cooke/Joe Vitale/Arron Asham
Dustin Jeffrey/Mark Letestu/Craig Adams
Despite Neal's 7 goals, this unit doesn't exactly strike fear into me. It's a solid group, with plenty of veteran presence but the Devils forward units pound for pound are much more talented than the group Pittsburgh is currently icing, primarily on the top 2 lines.Both Staal and Kunitz have driven the play in the offensive zone pretty well so far this season but I expect if Staal is matched up against the Parise line, I would hope that Elias and Parise can dominate that matchup.
Penguins Special Teams:
The Penguins penalty kill has been exceptional so far this season. They have killed off 30 penalties, allowed only 1 goal on the penalty kill and have scored 3 short-handed goals. Orpik (3:44 SH TOI/Game last year) and Michalek (3:58 SH TOI/Game) will typically be the top 2 defensemen out on the PK for the Penguins with Martin (3:31 SH TOI/Game) and Letang (1:56 SH TOI/Game) playing the second shift. Forwards Craig Adams (3:15 SH TOI/Game), Matt Cooke (3:04 SH TOI/Game), Jordan Staal (2:39 SH TOI/Game), and Pascal Dupuis (2:14 SH TOI/Game) will be the main forwards on the penalty kill. Watch out for Dupuis and Cooke who all have tallied shorthanded goals this season. Currently, the Penguins have as many shorthanded goals as the Devils have power play goals on the season.
Even without the firepower of Crosby and Malkin the Penguins have still been successful (18.9%) on the power play, scoring 7 goals on the season. Neal leads the way with 2 goals. At the points you will likely see the Penguins use Letang (4:45 PP TOI/Game) and Martin (3:41 PP TOI/Game). Neal (4:15 PP TOI/Game), ex-Devil Sullivan (4:06 PP TOI/Game), Kunitz (4:00 PP TOI/Game), Staal (3:24 PP TOI/Game) and Cooke (2:27 PP TOI/Game) will all see time on the man advantage.
With the Devils PK unit playing well, I can see a game without any special team goals. The Devils inconsistent power play will likely be shut out by the Penguins defense and I think the Devils can hold off the Pittsburgh attack, with the Penguins top scorers likely out of the lineup.
Goals For The Game:
1. Find some chemistry with Josefson out of the lineup.
Whether it is moving Zubrus to center or utilizing a call up like Henrique it would be nice to see Pete DeBoer be able to find some lines that work against the Penguins.
2. Get contributions from Tedenby, Palmieri and Zubrus.
Kovalchuk, Parise, Clarkson and Elias can't score all the goals. The Devils need some secondary scoring from some of their younger players who need to step up in the absence of Josefson.
3. Come out with energy.
This is easier said than done since the Devils played last night, but considering the numerous back-to-back games they play this season they better get used to bouncing back quickly. With some new faces likely to be in the lineup tonight, hopefully some of that nervous energy will translate into positive energy.
That's my take on what to expect from the Penguins tonight and what some of the key things we need to see from the Devils are. What do you think? Would you rather see Martin/Michalek matched against Kovy's line or the Parise line? Do you think the Devils power play can come through against a group that has been stellar so far this year? Leave your thoughts on tonight's game in the comments. Thanks for reading.