The Time: 7:00 PM EDT
The Broadcast:TV - MSG+; Radio - 660 AM WFAN
The Matchup: The New Jersey Devils (22-16-2) at the Pittsburgh Penguins (21-14-4)
The Last Devils Game:It was a historic night in New Jersey. (And no it wasn't historic because the Devils didn't give up a short-handed goal or because the Devils actually won a game in regulation). It was a historic night because Patrik Elias played in his 1000thgame and most impressively all of those games came with the New Jersey Devils. The Devils struck early with Calder candidate Adam Henrique scored a goal during a 4 on 4 situation in the first period but quickly allowed the Florida Panthers back into the game as MIkael Samuelsson scored just four minutes later. Mr. Millennium then put the Devils up 2-1 with a quick goal to start the second, but of course the Devils hate keeping leads and gave the goal back less than two minutes later. The fourth line/Cam Janssen were out on the ice for this goal and out of all the people to allow a goal, they allowed Captain Banana Peel, Krys Barch to put one past Johan Hedberg.
In the third period, the Devils best players took over. A goal by Ilya Kovalchuk off of a a nice pass by Elias then put the Devils ahead for good. Killing off a delay of game penalty late in the third the Devils iced the game as Kovalchuk scored a short-handed goal into an empty net. Kovalchuk...short-handed goal? Yes, that really happened. Zach Parise added a final empty net tally to give the Devils a 5-2 victory before a solid crowd just short of 16,000. John recaps all the action from that game here. You can read the Panther perspective from Ryan Meier at Litter Box Cats here.
The Last Penguins Game: Playing last night the Penguins fell to our hated rival the New York Rangers 3-1. Despite being out-shot 38-21, the Rangers were able to hold off the Penguins shot onslaught because of the play of goaltender Henrik Lundqvist. Brad Richards, Brandon Dubinsky and Derek Stephan scored for the Blue Shirts (one can't realize how much I wanted to 'Milbury' that) with Ben Lovejoy scoring for the Pens. FrankD of Pensburgh recapped the game here. With a home loss last night I would expect Pittsburgh to come out extra motivated tonight, as they don't want to lose back-to-back games at home. By the way, who's got two thumbs and can't wait for the Rangers inevitable fall from grace/regression? This guy.
The Last Devils-Penguins Game: In the last game of 2011 the Devils faced the Penguins in an afternoon tilt to ring in the New Year. It was an exciting game for Devils fans for a few reasons. There was a successful penalty shot executed by Ilya Kovalchu and there was exciting anxiety when the Penguins converted a power play opportunity to make the game a nail bitter by bringing the game to 2-1. Martin Brodeur played great and kept the Devils in the game and was able to hold off a relentless 3rd period Penguins attack that seemed to feature Evegeni Malkin nearly every shift. Despite playing without top defensemen Kris Letang and Paul Martin he Devils still had troubles finishing the Penguins. The Penguins nearly tied the game in the third period on few occasions but were stone walled by Brodeur and the Devils added an empty net goal and ended 2011 on a high note with a 3-1 victory. John’s excellent recap of that game is here. Pensburgh had commentary on the game via their site’s gamethread here.
The Goal: Take advantage of every opportunity offered. The Devils were outplayed in Pittsburgh the last time they visited the Consol center, and barely held the lead vs the Penguins in last week’sgame. This despite Pittsburgh being without two of their top defenders. Sidney Crosby and Kris Letang (concussions) will be out again for the Penguins and it looks like they might also be without second line center Jordan Staal. Late in the third period of last night's game he and Mike Rupp collided and the hit went knee to knee. Staal had to be helped off the ice and is questionable to play tonight.
The Devils will likely be without the services of Travis Zajac and Anton Volchenkov once again. The Devils defense (aka The Keystone Cops) will have to step up their game to make up for the loss of Volchenkov. With that in mind, and Pittsburgh badly outplaying the Devils at even-strength this year, the Devils need to be able to score on power plays and other opportunities given if they are to win this game. Easier said than done, I know. It will also be to ensure that Malkin sees Henrik Tallinder/Mark Fayne or Bryce Salvador when ever he steps on the ice. Malkin is a tough task for any defensive unit to deal with, especially the Keystone Cops.
After the jump I will go over a few more items that I think will effect the outcome of this game.
Pittsburgh's likely line combinations/defensive pairings (keep in mind Staal's a question mark)
Chris Kunitz-Evegeni Malkin- James Neal
Pascal Dupuis-Jordan Staal-Tyler Kennedy
Steve Sullivan-Richard Park-Matt Cooke
Craig Adams-Joe Vitale-Colin McDonald
Paul Martin-Zbynek Michalek, Deryk Engelland-Brooks Orpik, Matt Niskanen-Ben Lovejoy.
Marc-Andre Fleurystarted in net last night. If the Penguins choose to rest him they will then face Brent Johnson.
Fight Fire with Fire: I like Pete DeBoer and what he has done with this team so far this year. That said, his ability to match lines has left a lot to be desired. If I may offer the coach a piece of advice: Don't try and be cute and match lines with the Penguins top two lines (with or without Staal). See if the Devils best can beat out the Penguins best. Malkin and Neal's line will be very tough to deal with, but it will be the job of either the Elias line or the Henrique line to create possession time in the Pittsburgh end in order to keep the puck away from Malkin/Neal.
Kick Down The Little Guys: The Penguins bottom line isn't that great. The underlying possession stats of the fourth line are 'Devil-esque'. Vitale, McDonald and Adams aren't much better statistically than the Devils fourth liners and actually play a few more minutes than the Devils fourthline does. This can create some opportunities for the Devils to create pressure in the Pittsburgh end and take advantage of a fourth line for once. However, taking advantage of this match-up will also require the Devils putting out a competent fourth line, something they haven't seem to be able to do.
Brodeur Bounceback Part II: The last time these two teams met, we saw our old friend Martin Brodeur. Vintage Brodeurhelped steal two points for New Jersey in a game Ithought would at least end up in overtime if not a Penguins win as I wateched it unfold. The Devils need this version of Brodeur much more often if they have any realistic chance at competing for and in the playoffs. Let's toss out Wednesday's result and look for a bounce back for Marty. He needs to build his confidence and just as importantly, his team needs to regain confidence in him.
Matty T on the Power Play Point: Kurtis Foster has to be moved off of the point on the first power play unit. As Talking Red host David Sarch has often said, Foster is Brian Rolston 2.0. He has a great shot, but his passing and decision making leaves much to be desired. His questionable decisions are not what this team needs. They are hemorrhaging short handed opportunities right now, and Foster is not helping. Matt Taormina has an uncanny ability that allows him, despite not having a powerful shot, to get the puck on net. He can also handle a Kovalchuk pass and send crisp passes Kovalchuk's way. He's a better skater than Foster and that allows him to recover should a short-handed opportunity develop the other way. I still don't understand why we haven't seen more of Taormina on the power play.
60 Minute Effort or Bust: Again, easier said than done but to beat a hungry Penguins team in their own building, the Devils will need a full-game effort. The Penguins, as they showed last week, don't give up easily and even if the Devils should jump out in front early, they will need to keep up their intensity. This will also require contributions for, the bottom 6. I thought Steve Zalewski and David Clarkson had some good shifts last night and look to that line, specifically Clarkson to possibly provide a difference making goal.
Swing Game: With the Penguins loss to the Rangers last night the Devils and Penguins are now tied in points (with the Devils having a game at hand) and tonight's game will allow one team to leapfrog the other. It's quite nice for the Devils, who at times were very far away from the Penguins in the standings, to catch up and now have a chance to surpass them in the standings.
Zalewski Time: 25 year old rookie center Steve Zalewski made his Devils debut last night and tonight's game will offer another chance for him to make his case to stay in New Jersey. He generated a few scoring opportunities with David Clarkson, created some nice puck possession in some third period shifts, did very well (8 of 11) in the faceoff circle and bravely tried to block a Brian Campbell blast late in the third period to help preserve the lead. I would like to see Mattias Tedenby thrown on the wing to create a Tedenby/Zalewski/Clarkson line as I believe that line could generate some scoring opportunities tonight. Zalewski has no fear in going right in front of the opponents net and his ability to generate shots can create rebounds for Tedenby/Clarkson.
Is Zalewski here for the long haul? Hard to say after one game, but he already offers better ice-time than Sestito, Ryan Carter, Eric Boulton, Brad Mills and Cam Janssen. Once Travis Zajac/Jacob Josefson returns I would like to see a Zharkov/Zalewski foundation for a fourth line going forward this season.
Thanks for reading and please add any new updates, lineup changes, comments, etc. below