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New Jersey Devils vs. Pittsburgh Penguins: Game Preview #70

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The New Jersey Devils will don their 1980s jerseys and hope they don't get waxed like those teams did against the Pittsburgh Penguins tonight. This game preview goes over how both teams are as of late among other thoughts.

The last Devils-Penguins game featured a lot of Penguins in New Jersey's end, doing as they wished.
The last Devils-Penguins game featured a lot of Penguins in New Jersey's end, doing as they wished.
Adam Hunger/Getty Images

Retro Night is tonight.  The 2014-15 Devils are the closest those 80s teams, I suppose.

The Time: 7:00 PM EDT

The Broadcast: TV - MSG+; Radio - 660 AM & 101.9 FM WFAN

The Matchup: The New Jersey Devils (29-29-11) vs. the Pittsburgh Penguins (39-20-10; SBN Blog: PensBurgh)

The Last Devils Game: The Devils finished their three game road trip in Glendale, Arizona. The Coyotes began the game as Minnesota and Colorado did in most of their games against New Jersey.  They were putting up shots, they wer crashing the net, they were doing everything but scoring.  The latter was thanks to Cory Schneider. The Devils just couldn't put it together. At one point they were out-shot 21-9 before the halfway mark of the period.  Then the Devils started to do so for the second half of the second period. There was no massive shift or big play.  Just doing a few things right followed by a few more things right and the next thing one knows, the Devils have nearly evened up the game in shots and they have control of the game. They get a lucky bounce off the glass / endboards off a missed Travis Zajac shot that Adam Henrique batted in mid-air to beat Mike Smith to make it 1-0.  Early in the third period, the Devils made it 2-0 when Stephen Gionta put home a rebound off a Jordin Tootoo shot.  The Devils never stopped attacking, though Arizona would cut the lead to one when Shane Doan tipped in a shot from distance.  New Jersey answered back when Tootoo put home a rebound off a Mike Cammalleri shot.  Minutes later, Cammalleri got one past Smith off a rebound from an Andy Greene shot. The Devils cruised to a 4-1 win in a rebound victory filled with, well, rebounds.  My recap of the win is here.

The Last Penguins Game: On Sunday afternoon, the Penguins hosted Detroit.  The game was loaded with penalties, with unsportsmanlike conduct penalties handed out evenly to David Perron and Kyle Quincey within the first minute.  Power plays didn't decide the game, but the Red Wings did.  Riley Sheahan got a piece of a long shot from Marek Zidlicky to get Detroit an early goal. Near the end of the first period, Teemu Pulkkinen hammered in a one-timer from the left circle to make it 2-0.  After a whole lot of beef, the first period ended.  Out of all of the fracas, the Red Wings got a 5-on-3 power play to start the second. They got something out of it when Zidlicky beat Marc-Andre Fleury from the right circle.  Later, Gustav Nyquist denied a zone exit, skated into the slot, and cooly fed Henrik Zetterberg at the side of the net to make it 4-0.  That was it for Fleury, he was replaced by Thomas Greiss.  The drama continued at around the halfway mark as Kris Letang was thrown out of the game with a misconduct to go with another unsportsmanlike penalty.  The scoring would restart in the third period and it would be an early goal from Detroit.  Pulkkinen took a shot off the rush, his stick broke, but the puck bounced off two Pens before beating Greiss.  The Penguins put a lot of rubber on net, especially in the third, to try and get back into this one. They only got one past Petr Mrazek: a goal by David Perron before the halfway mark of the third.  A pure consolation goal.  The Penguins lost their cool, lost their coverage, and lost the game big time, 1-5.  Hooks Orpik is mad at the refs in his recap at PensBurgh.

The Last Penguins-Devils Game: It was back on January 30 that these two teams faced each other. For those of you with good memories, this was back when the Devils were winning games in spite of their performances. This was arguably the nadir of those performances.  The Penguins out-shot the Devils by a 3:1 ratio.  Cory Schneider was amazing, awesome, and astounding in net.  The rest of the Devils skaters sucked.  Steve Bernier less so when he put a puck past Marc-Andre Fleury in the third period.  The Penguins would get at least one equalizer when Chris Kunitz put home a rebound to convert a power play.  In overtime, Simon Despres mercifully ended a game where Pittsburgh should've won 7-1 or something big like that.  My recap of the abysmal performance by all Devils not named Schneider is here. At PensBurgh, Hooks Orpik had a more upbeat take on the game.

The Goal: Be present in the neutral zone.  The Devils were able to do this to Arizona in the second half of their last game. This allowed their defense to get in better positions to make stops and turn pucks back for offense. This slowed the Coyotes down.  In the first half of that game, they were not doing that effectively and so the Coyotes were able to get good zone entries, which led to extended shifts in New Jersey's end and plenty of attempts at goal.  That presence in the middle of the zone changing how that game went was not a coincidence.  If the Devils want to avoid a fate similar to the last Devils-Penguins game, then they need to be present in the neutral zone to make it difficult for the Penguins to do what they want going forward with the puck.

Banged Up: The Penguins continue to not want to hear about your own issues with injuries. While the team isn't as wrecked with injuries as earlier in the season, they will be missing two key players tonight.  According to Josh Yohe of the Pittsburgh Tribune, Evgeni Malkin and Patric Hornqvist will be out tonight. Looking at the basic scoring stats alone, these are two big losses.  Malkin leads Pittsburgh with 28 goals and he's got 40 assists and 190 shots to go with that.  His offense and big minutes will be missed.  Hornqvist has 23 goals, 22 assists, and 187 shots in 55 games.  That's another significant scorer unavailable for the Pens tonight.   So there is some relief for the Devils' defense tonight.

Still The Guy: Sidney Crosby is active and healthy, though.  He could very well end up as the league's leading scorer by the end of the season.  He does lead the Pens in points with 23 goals, 48 assists, and 195 shots.  He will command all of the attention a scorer like him should have.  Without Malkin and Hornqvist, the pressure will be on #87 to lead the way.  History has shown that he is more than capable of doing just that.  As long as Crosby is active, the Penguins still have an ace that can turn a game on it's head.

A key for the Penguins will be whether they can get adequate help from their secondary scoring.  Without Malkin and Hornqvist, it's imperative for guys like Chris Kunitz, David Perron, Blake Comeau, Brandon Sutter, and Steve Downie to contribute with good plays, good shots, and - of course - goals.   Per the Penguins' scoring stats, those players have done so to some degree this season.  What with the Devils not exactly being all that deep in talent, it's imperative that they perform well instead of having to lean on Crosby's line to do a lot of the work.

Looking at the team's lines from Sunday's game at Left Wing Lock gives some clue as to what Pittsburgh's lines may look like tonight.  They had Hornqvist for most of the Detroit game, but when he left with injury it appears Kunitz moved up to play with Crosby and Perron.   In response, Daniel Winnik moved up with Comeau and Sutter. That, in turn, jumbled up the bottom six.  That's just me guessing; it's entirely possible that head coach Mike Johnston does something entirely different.  Either way, I would expect Andy Greene and Adam Larsson to handle Crosby's unit with Damon Severson and Jon Merrill taking on whatever their second line will be.

The Back End: The Penguins are emboldened on the blueline with a pairing of Kris Letang and Paul Martin.  Martin hasn't been killing it so hard against the toughs per War on Ice, but Letang has been having a sensational season.  He plays a lot, he plays the other team's best players, and he's been very productive.  Letang has ten goals, 42 assists, and 170 shots.  He will absolutely be involved in both ends of the rink.   Following them has been a functional group of Christian Ehrhoff, the return of Ben Lovejoy, the arrival of Ian Cole, and Rob Scuderi.  Ehrhoff can definitely chip in on the attack, as evidenced by his 103 shots.  Lovejoy and Cole have been good so far in their respective roles.  Scuderi could be doing a bit better, but Cole's been fine with him.   It may not be the world's best blueline, but they're quite solid and they should give the Devils' forwards a challenge tonight.

Behind them is likely to be Marc-Andre Fleury.  While Sunday didn't go well for him - or the skaters - Fleury has been having a rather good season.  According to NHL.com, he's got a good even strength save percentage of 92.7% and an excellent 90.8% save percentage on penalty killing situations.  He may still have the reputation of giving up some horrid goals at times, but these numbers don't lie.  Fleury has been an asset for the Penguins this season, he's not a liability.  Even if the Devils get through the defense, it will not be so simple to get goals.  Like it ever is with this team.

Spasms May Say No: Patrik Elias did not practice on Monday, according to this post by Tom Gulitti at Fire & Ice. He is considered to be "day to day;" that he didn't practice makes me think that he will not likely play tonight.  Based on this other post from Monday's practice by Gulitti, this may mean the Devils will roll out the exact same lineup from the Arizona game.

That would mean another game for Michael Ryder, who I wasn't all that impressed with in his return on Saturday night.  I would like to see Martin Havlat get another chance to see if he can do more with an opportunity. However, I can see how that's a moot point.  Either way, I'd like to see more from whoever is in that spot.  As well as from the unit of Scott Gomez, Adam Henrique, and Steve Bernier.  If Arizona was giving them fits at even strength, I fear what will happen if they have to play against Crosby's line tonight.

Unsurprising News: Per Gulitti on Twitter, Cory Schneider will start in net tonight.  Schneider is awesome so I can't say this is a problem.  For those of you on Keith Kinkaid watch, I would expect a start on Friday against Buffalo as opposed to the Islanders on Saturday.  Either way, it won't be long before #1 is in net again.

Retro!: Frankly, I'm not a fan of the old jerseys.  I don't like the aesthetic and I don't like throwbacks in general.  I'd rather move forward than bring back a distant past.  The current design is perfect the way it is and the Devils have actually done something of value beyond just making a postseason in them.   Alas, they make money and so they will be worn.

Lastly: Can I not see the Penguins out-shoot the Devils by a 3:1 ratio again? That last game in January was just painful to witness.

Your Take: Retro jersey dislikement aside, I'll be at this game in my usual seat. Will you?  Are you also hoping for a better performance than the last Devils-Penguins game?  Can the Devils take advantage of a Penguins offense that will miss Malkin and Hornqvist?  Can the Devils get through the Penguins' defense to get goals?  Can the Devils really not get destroyed on the shot-count?  Please leave your answers and other thoughts about tonight's game in the comments. Thank you for reading.