The Time: 7:00 PM EST
The Broadcast: MSG PLUS, WFAN 660 AM 101.9 FM
The Matchup: New Jersey Devils (6-8-5, 17 pts) vs Pittsburgh Penguins (12-7-0, 24 pts; SBN Blog: Pensburgh)
The Last Devils Game: The Devils hosted the Los Angeles Kings on Friday night and started out the game very strong. As the game went on, however, the Kings started to play better, and after pinning the Devils back for parts of the second and the third, the visitors scored a goal off a deflection in front by Dwight King with around 6 minutes to play in the game. This goal broke a 0-0 tie, and the Kings added an empty netter to win 2-0. Another game where the Devils were shut out in front of Cory Schneider. This loss broke a 2 game win streak. John has a full recap of last night's affair right here.
The Last Penguins Game: Pittsburgh also played last night and unlike the Devils, they were victorious, 4-1 over Nashville. Hooks Orpik over at Pensburgh had this recap here, in which he praised the play of Evgeni Malkin, James Neal, Pascual Dupuis, and Paul Martin, among others.
The Last Devils - Penguins Game: These two teams met on opening night in Pittsburgh, and the Devils were pretty much crushed. It ended up being a 3-0 victory for the Penguins. If you would like to relive some early season struggles, check out John's recap.
The goal: Goals. Last night the Devils were shut out for the 5th time this season. They also have 5 wins on the year. That is not a good ratio of wins to shutouts. The team didn't necessarily play badly last night, but they didn't put in a great or winning effort. The Kings got stronger and more engaged as the game went on while the Devils faded. Scoring has been a consistent problem this year for the Devils. I know its a bit facetious to simply say the goal is goals, but they need to work harder and produce more dangerous chances, and win more 50/50 battles. I thought the Devils compete level actually sunk as the game went on last night, which is not a good thing for a rested team. Meanwhile, a tired team amped up for the final 20 minutes and earned a victory. So, the goal is goals - the way to get those goals is to do many of the same things they were doing but also win more battles and play better exiting their own zone and getting through the neutral zone. They are going to need to do better in getting pucks out of the zone and moving forward against Pittsburgh, a team that can beat them with speed off the rush if they are not careful.
Somewhat surprisingly, the Penguins are only middle of the pack in goals for. They are roughly the same in goals against and differential. The Penguins are near the top of the league in shots for. The Devils are tops at preventing shots. Something has to give and hopefully it's not the Devils defense.
Possession Monsters? Not exactly but still good..: The Penguins are top-10 in Corsi For, Corsi Against, and differential. Same with Fenwick. They are a solid to strong possession team. Not top of the league, but very good. The Devils will have their hands full in a similar manner as they did last night. The Penguins may not be as big and heavy as the Kings, but they certainly have their share of guys who can drive the play, and we are familiar with most of them..Leading the charge is Sidney Crosby followed by Pascual Dupuis and Chris Kunitz. Evgeni Malkin is surprisingly further down the list of names, and he has been struggling somewhat to start the season without James Neal playing besides him. Well, now Neal is back from injury so I wouldn't expect Malkin's struggles to continue.
The Devils Lineup: The Devils will be using the same lineup that played last night against the Kings. The one change will be Martin Brodeur in net. I think Patrik Elias will have a better game after shaking some of the rust off on Friday. It was a little difficult to have him paired with two struggling wingers in Michael Ryder and Damien Brunner. I'd like to see this line combo again, as I think it has potential once Elias gets his game going again. By the way, Damien Brunner commits waay too many stick infractions. Don't be quite so loose with your stick there my friend. I liked what I saw at times last night out of the Henrique-Loktionov-Bernier line, but they were dismantled late in the game to make way for CBGB, which should really surprise no one at this point. I would not be at all surprised if the Devils rolled the exact same line combos as last night. Although I wasn't thoroughly happy with the teams play overall, it's not like they played a bad game. The Kings just raised their level and fought a little harder in certain battles when necessary and came out on top.
This Devils team, especially on a night when the puck is not going in the net easily, is going to have to rely on their effort to create dangerous and messy scoring chances through deflections and scrums in front. I don't recall all that many re-directed shots on net by the Devils last night. This, as well as point shots with a screen in front are two strategies that have been working well for the Devils of late. Hopefully we can create more of these scoring chances. Basically, if the Devils played three periods like they played in the first last night, they would have won that game. Stringing together a complete 60 minute effort was a problem earlier in the season, although that was a little different because during the bad moments there were often serious breakdowns that occurred with frequency. The system is much tighter now, but they are probably going to need to play a complete game against Pittsburgh to win.
No goals for Cory: OK, now its sort of becoming a thing that the Devils can't score goals when Cory Schneider in net. Four of the five times the team was shut out came under his watch. Does this have anything to do with Martin Brodeur and how he plays the puck? Are the Devils able to play better and break out better from the defensive end with the sure handed Brodeur assisting in distribution? So far, that has been the case. I'm not sure exactly how big an effect Marty's puck handling has had on the better offensive production during the games he has played. I'm not sure if there's even a way to quantify that. It could just be random chance. Hopefully the offense shows up once again with Marty in net.