Tonight's opponent features the best forward in the world and a 40% success rate on the power play. Yeah, it'll be tough.
The Time: 7:00 PM EST
The Broadcast: TV - MSG; Radio - 660 AM & 101.9 FM WFAN
The Matchup: The New Jersey Devils (4-2-2) at the Pittsburgh Penguins (4-2-1; SBN Blog: PensBurgh)
The Last Devils Game: The Devils completed their first back-to-back set of games this season with a trip up to a suburb of Canada's capital to play the Ottawa Senators. The game tilted back and forth. The Sens got off to a strong start, but the Devils finished up the first period to make it competitive. They even killed a penalty. In the second period, a Senators power play struck first as Alex Chiasson got the puck all alone from the corner and waltzed right up to Cory Schneider to beat him high. But the second was New Jersey's period as they out-shot and out-attempted Ottawa by a large margin. They even made the comeback: Damon Severson picked off a pass by Erik Karlsson, darted up ice, and placed a beautiful slapshot over the shoulder of Robin Lehner. Later, after Chris Phillips got mad at Tuomo Ruutu throwing a legal check, Marek Zidlicky sent a blast from above the circle for a power play goal. Yet, the third period was mostly Ottawa going right at New Jersey and Ottawa recovering the puck to go right at New Jersey. A possession heavy power play for the Sens ended with an equalizer from Bobby Ryan on Schneider's flank. The Devils held on to get overtime. There, as the Sens had all the shots, Clarke MacArthur struck Zidlicky high with his stick. The penalty was called and the Devils had a glorious chance. Eric Gelinas conceded the puck to David Legwand. Severson closed him off, Adam Henrique backchecked to deny a back pass for Legwand, Gelinas flung the puck in the neutral zone to Jaromir Jagr, and Jagr skated in to beat Lehner gloveside to win it. The Devils won 3-2; here is my recap of the game.
The Last Penguins Game: The Penguins went south to Nashville to visit James Neal and the Predators. It would be Pittsburgh who would leave with two points in a decisive victory. Sidney Crosby opened the game's scoring in the first period, with assists from defenseman Olli Maatta and former Predator Patric Hornqvist. The Penguins dominated the second period but Pekka Rinne kept it a one-goal game. Yet, the powerhouse that has been Pittsburgh's power play pulverized the Preds in the third period. Evgeni Malkin made Nashville suffer for an early holding call on Eric Nystrom. Pascal Dupuis made Nashville suffer minutes later for a hooking call on Neal. The Predators mounted a serious effort to get into the game. But they could not beat Marc-Andre Fleury. The Penguins won 3-0; here is a recap from Natasha66 at PensBurgh.
We Wish You Well: On Monday, Olli Maatta revealed that he has a tumor in his thyroid gland. He will be undergoing a procedure to remove it next week. While he will play tonight, on the behalf of everyone at ILWT and Devils fans around the world, we wish you the best of luck in your procedure and in recovery.
The Goal: Seriously, the Devils can ill-afford to take unnecessary penalties. The Penguins are a talented team on their own. The fact that they could put Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin on the same line is a difficult enough of a challenge already. The real danger is the power play. The Devils' penalty kill has been beaten regularly. It is to the point where they have the worst success rate in the entire NHL. That does not bode well for most nights, but especially tonight. The Penguins are 10-for-25 this season. Prior to Monday's games, Crosby leads the league in power play points (8) and Malkin (6) is close behind him. Hornqvist, their leading shooter, has five. Kris Letang and Chris Kunitz round out the top unit and they have a bunch of points each already. The Devils will be doomed tonight if they take multiple calls that they do not need to take. Fouls to deny opportunities are one thing; fouls because of frustration or laziness will likely spell disaster tonight. The Devils' PK may function well tonight in theory, but so far this month, I have to see it to believe it. Right now, I don't believe it and I don't believe they should be tested any more than they have to if the Devils want to leave Pittsburgh with something in the standings.
Offensive Powerhouses: Crosby is behind only Tyler Seguin for the league lead in points by one and he's played one fewer game. With five goals, seven assists, and 24 shots, Crosby is a consistent offensive threat. He'll find the spaces to play into, either making you pay himself or helping someone else make you pay. Per Left Wing Lock, Crosby has been centering Hornqvist and Kunitz mostly in their most recent game. Hornqvist leads Pittsburgh with 36 shots on net and Kunitz has 16. Crosby is a big reason as to why they have so many shots and why they will continue to do so provided that combination stays together.
Curiously, Crosby isn't killing it in possession per War on Ice. But their usage has helped another unit. Teams can only match their best against one line. Evgeni Malkin, Blake Comeau, and Pascal Dupuis have been Pittsburgh's best set of forwards in possession. They're not too shabby at the scoring thing either. Malkin, whether he's buying into the system or not, is behind only Crosby in points. Dupuis has three goals and six points in seven games and Comeau has one goal and four points. Those are more than respectable numbers to start the season. Combined with their stupidly-effective power play, the Penguins are only behind the Islanders with an average of 3.57 goals per game scored. The Devils don't get the advantage of the last change as this is a road game, but I don't think there's a preferable match-up for Andy Greene and Damon Severson or the Travis Zajac line. Focusing on Malkin's unit leaves the Crosby unit for others and vice versa.
As for the bottom six, players like Brandon Sutter and Marcel Goc can definitely be thorns in New Jersey's side if they have good nights. So far this season, they've mostly been defending more than attacking based on the even strength Corsi at War on Ice. Hopefully, the Devils can keep that up.
Consider the Defense: The Penguins have added Christian Ehrhoff to their blueline, an immediate addition to their top four. A healthy Kris Letang, though, has proven to be a bigger factor. The coach knows it too as he leads the Penguins in average ice time so far this season. He may have made some errors, but more often than not, he's a considerable asset for the Penguins and not the opposition. Per War on Ice, the play has gone forward constantly when Letang and Maatta have been on the ice at even strength. Less so for Paul Martin and Ehrhoff, but they're not scrubs in their own end. If the Devils want to find a pairing to go up against, then it'll likely be the Rob Scuderi and Simon Despres pairing. Though, if I'm Pittsburgh, I shelter them with a powerful forward unit coming on in front of them. You know, one of the two really good ones that they have.
After all of the players, there is Marc-Andre Fleury. As much as one can knock his career numbers not measuring up to the pedigree he has sometimes received, I can't knock his current numbers. He's got a 94% save percentage at evens and 92% overall. The low penalty killing save percentage suggests that the Devils power play, which has been recently successful, may have a better chance at success. Still, the other two percentages are really good; and he's coming off of a shutout as well. Fleury's not going to be an easy one to beat tonight. The Penguins are playing this game with breaks before and after, so I would be more surprised if he doesn't start this game.
Add Another to the List?: Jordin Tootoo was placed on IR with a bruised left foot. So has Martin Havlat for, get this, a lower body injury. He's apparently been dinged up beyond parts of his face exploding in D.C. However, the latest potential injury is more concerning. Mike Cammalleri was held out of practice and got X-rays for his jaw. He took a shot from a Dallas Star on Friday, played through it on Saturday, and now his status is questionable for tonight. Tom Gulitti detailed all this while revealing his temporary replacement in Monday's practice at Fire & Ice: Reid Boucher.
Why not Scott Gomez? Well, that would require signing him. Plus, Gomez isn't a winger like Boucher is, so someone else would have had to have switched. Boucher wasn't exactly setting the world on fire in Albany with one goal in 15 shots and three assists in six games. However, he has played in the NHL under similar circumstances before and he still displayed his good shot in preseason. So I'm fine with the call-up. Boucher practiced with Adam Henrique and Michael Ryder, placing him in the top nine. The trio were together for parts of preseason, so it's a logical place to start. Besides, I don't want him up with the Zajac or Elias lines; I expect those lines to face difficult competition and I trust Boucher on defense less than even Brunner or Ryder (not much less, but less). Dainius Zubrus was moved up to take Cammalleri's spot next to Jaromir Jagr and Travis Zajac; while Ryane Clowe and Damien Brunner remained with Patrik Elias. If Cammalleri is unable to play, expect those lines at the start of the game. I personally hope Cammalleri is able to play if only because it'll mean he did not sustain a significant injury. The Devils may need all the shots they can generate against Pittsburgh and Cammalleri, leading the team with 29, could have been at the forefront of that.
That change would be the only one. Brunner and Jacob Josefson will definitely get one more game. This is good news for Brunner. Another night of skating hard, dekeing defenders, and creating some shots would help his argument to stay in the lineup further. The defense, while conceding over 30 shots in Ottawa, have been productive enough to keep together. Good for fans of The Truth and Jon Merrill. Not so for Adam Larsson. Gulitti did confirm that Cory Schneider will start this game in this Fire & Ice post. I can only hope he doesn't get shelled again.
A Final Thought: Mike let me know on Twitter that Jon Merrill has been really eating it in terms of possession. And he's right. Maybe some of you can answer the question: Should he remain in the lineup as it is? Or should he sit for a bit for Larsson?
Your Take: Thinking about Merrill aside, I'd like to know what you think about tonight's game. Can the Devils not be the latest victims of Pittsburgh's power play juggernaut? Or at least the latest victims of the Crosby-Malkin lines? Will the Devils be able to move the puck effectively and find ways to beat Fleury? Should we really hope Cammalleri is OK, or do you think Boucher can handle some time as a fill-in? Please leave your answers and other thoughts about tonight's game in the comments. Thank you for reading.