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Game Preview: New Jersey Devils at the Pittsburgh Penguins

Maybe the extra hour of sleep during the weekend will help.

NHL: New Jersey Devils at Pittsburgh Penguins
Stop this man
Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

The Matchup: The New Jersey Devils (5-5-1) at the Pittsburgh Penguins (6-3-3). SBN blog:

The Broadcast: TV - MSG+

The Time: 7:00 PM

Are the Devils Good?: I don’t really know right now. They’re down a middle six center by choice and Jesper Bratt at the time of writing this preview is still not activated to play, so it’s hard to judge where this team is at. We do have a lineup change for tonight though, that should give us more skill on offense.

The Goalies: Keith Kinkaid will be in net for the New Jersey Devils. He will be facing Matt Murray.

As It Stands: The New Jersey Devils are currently in last place, in the Metropolitan Division, about to play the high-powered offense of the Pittsburgh Penguins. If the Devils want to get through this game, and hopefully come out of it with a win, they will have to control the run of play so Pittsburgh’s stars cannot walk all over the defense. Fortunately for the Devils, the Pittsburgh Penguins have not been much more successful than the New Jersey Devils at even strength possession. According to Natural Stat Trick, the Devils are 21st in team Corsi for percentage at 48.39, and the Pittsburgh Penguins are in 20th at 48.73. So, if there’s a game that the Devils can avoid being shelled in the shot count, it’s tonight - but they have to execute their style of play correctly.

Why Is Jean-Sebastien Dea Still in the Lineup?: Among Devils players still in the lineup, Jean-Sebastien Dea, by far, has the worst run of play stats, At a pitiful 42.31 CF%, Dea is destroying the lines he touches. The second worst player in terms of CF% among starters tonight is Drew Stafford at 44.68, who is on the third line at right wing tonight. However, Drew Stafford had a better looking game than most against the Islanders, so I think he’s deserved another game. While the team has not been doing terribly in terms of goals allowed while he has been on the ice, it remains a problem that Dea has been causing such inefficiency on offense, as the team is losing valuable time to score goals.

Stop Taking Penalties: The Devils’ penalty kill has been pitiful over the past week or so. After an incredible start, the regression to the mean has had quite a negative effect on team success recently. Overall, the team has allowed 9 goals on 45 opportunities against - an 80% success rate for the PK, which isn’t that bad. However, when these goals are all concentrated into a few games, it leads to losing streaks like the team has had over the past few games. If the team can keep this game to five-on-five tonight, they will be keeping Sidney Crosby, Evgeny Malkin, and Phill Kessel off the power play, which would put the Devils in a much better place to win.

A Matchip Question: Last year, the TNT (Travis‘n’Texans) line, combined with Andy Greene’s pairing (whether it be with Sami Vatanen or Ben Lovejoy), contained Sidney Crosby’s line with great success. Arguably, one of the first games the TNT line was featured - against PIttsburgh in early February last season - was the mark of the beginning of Travis Zajac’s turnaround. But tonight, Coleman will have his own line, and Zajac is with Marcus Johansson and Miles Wood. I think that Zajac will likely get the Crosby assignment, but which defensive pairing will be with him? Mirco Mueller and Sami Vatanen, or Andy Greene and Damon Severson? I think, given his track record, that Greene should get the bulk of the assignment, but Hynes has been more keen on keeping Severson out of the defensive zone. Mirco Mueller has gotten, in my opinion, a surprising number of defensive zone starts, and to replicate last year’s success against Crosby, he’s going to need to be on his game if Hynes gives this test to him.

Your Take: How do you feel about tonight’s game? Do you think this is the night the Devils break the losing streak? Should Zajac and Blake Coleman be together? How do you feel about Marcus Johansson’s recent play? How worried should we be about the team’s middle six? Who should get the Crosby assignment? Leave your thoughts in the comments below.

A Message: This is the Devils’ first game against the Penguins since the shooting at the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh. Before we all watch hockey tonight, I want to say that New Jerseyans and Devils fans stand with Pittsburgh against hate and violence.