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Game Preview #49: New Jersey Devils at Pittsburgh Penguins

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The New Jersey Devils return from an extended layoff due to a bye week and the All-Star game to take on their divisional rivals, the Pittsburgh Penguins, on the road.

Pittsburgh Penguins v New Jersey Devils
Travis Zajac will look to help lead the Devils to victory over the Penguins tonight in Pittsburgh.
Photo by Elsa/Getty Images

The Devils start their post-All-Star break part of the season with a Monday night clash against the Pittsburgh Penguins. Both teams are coming off of their bye weeks prior to the All-Star break and should be ready to go out and earn the 2 points. The Penguins are fighting for their playoff spot while the Devils are playing for pride.

The Matchup: The New Jersey Devils (18-23-7) at the Pittsburgh Penguins (26-16-6; SBN Blog: Pensburgh)

The Time: 7:00 PM ET

The Broadcast: TV - MSG+; Digital Audio - The “Devils Hockey Network.” Go to Radio.com or NHL.com for an audio feed.

The Last Devils Game: The Devils last played on January 19 when they lost 3-2 to the Anaheim Ducks at the Prudential Center. The Devils offense came from Marcus Johansson (1 goal), Jesper Bratt (1 goal, 1 assist), and Will Butcher (2 assists). The Devils jumped out to an early 1-0 lead but would quickly surrender that as Anaheim would add 2 first period goals themselves. An early third period goal for Anaheim would seemingly put the game out of reach but Bratt’s goal with 56 seconds left was able to make the score line more respectable. In goal, Mackenzie Blackwood made 11 saves on 14 shots as the Devils outshot Anaheim 31-14. Of course, Anaheim leading for the majority of the game had a lot to do with the shot totals. The game also featured the debut of Nathan Bastian who earned praise for his strong, aggressive game as he played hard in the corners and fought Josh Manson. Bratt only received 11:48 in ice time despite being one of the Devils more dangerous players and them trailing for a long time. Hopefully, Coach Hynes utilizes him more in the next game. If you want a full recap of this game, check out Gerard’s in-depth recap.

The Last Penguins Game: The Penguins lost to the Vegas Golden Knights 7-3 on January 19. Phil Kessel, Dominik Simon, and Sidney Crosby were the goal scorers for Pittsburgh. Jake Guentzel led the way with 2 assists, while Olli Maatta, Evgeni Malkin, Brian Dumoulin, and Kris Letang had an assist each. Casey DeSmith made 28 saves on 34 shots as the Penguins were outshot 37-35. Hooks Orpik of Pensburgh has this game recap.

The Last Devils-Penguins Game: These teams last met on November 13, 2018. The Devils won that game 4-2 thanks to 2 goal, 2 assists effort from Taylor Hall. Travis Zajac and Damon Severson had the other goals as well as an assist each. Jesper Bratt, Kyle Palmieri, and Stefan Noesen also got on the scoresheet with an assist each. Phil Kessel and Jake Guentzel had the Penguins goals with Sidney Crosby earning 2 assists and Evgeni Malkin as well as Kessel one each. Keith Kinkaid made 29 saves on 31 shots as the Devils outshot the Penguins 35-31. Casey DeSmith made 31 saves on 34 shots in the Penguins goal. John had this recap which talks about how this win came after the 7 game road trip from hell, saw the Devils overcome some less than ideal refereeing with their resilience, and mentions why Taylor Hall is a star.

The Goal: Get off on the right foot. I mean this for both the game and the rest of the season. There is no sugar coating the disastrous season the Devils have had so far in 2018-19. With more than half of the season gone, it’s time to just focus on what is ahead of the team. There is no sense in dwelling on past failures at the moment. Even if the Devils can’t go out and win tonight and still continue to struggle the rest of the year, I want to see them get back to being a team that is tough to beat. Far too many times this season the team hasn’t put up much of a challenge and has reverted back to being an easy team to play against. I want to see the Devils set the tone tonight by competing hard every shift, not allowing mental lapses on defense to end up with goals against, and put some pressure on the opposition. Obviously, that’s easier said thane done, especially when facing a quality opponent like the Penguins. Still, this team should be able to at least make a game of it for 60 minutes.

Keep the Penguins Offense in Check: The big challenge in tonight’s game will be limiting the Penguins offensive chances. Naturally, any team that features Sidney Crosby (21-36-57 in 45 GP), Phil Kessel (20-33-53 in 48), Evgeni Malkin (14-38-52 in 48), and Kris Letang (11-29-40 in 46) is going to be very dangerous. That’s not even to mention players like Jake Guentzel (24-23-47 in 48) and Patric Hornqvist (15-11-26 in 35) who provide plenty of firepower themselves. As a team, Pittsburgh averages 3.5 goals per game according to NHL.com which is the 5th highest rate in the league. It’s inevitable that the Penguins are going to get good looks at the Devils net. The Devils will need to play a smart game to avoid defensive breakdowns, especially in transition, and to stay out of the penalty box.

The Penguins are lethal on the PP with a 25.7% success rate which ranks 5th in the league. While the Devils PK ranks 2nd in the NHL with a 84.2% success rate, that number dips to 81.6% on the road which ranks 9th in the league. That’s still not bad but the Devils margin for error is small, so it’s best they don’t play an undisciplined game.

Player Updates: Chris Ryan of NJ.com has this update from practice yesterday. Taylor Hall, Ben Lovejoy, and Stefan Noesen are still out. Miles Wood is set to make his return to the line up after missing 3 games due to injury. The Devils recalled Kevin Rooney, Egor Yakovlev, and Cam Johnson yesterday. He has the full practice lines and pairs in his article so be sure to check it out.

Goaltending Match Up: Yesterday, Amanda Stein reported that Keith Kinkaid would be the Devils starter with Cam Johnson called up to serve as a back up. She noted that this was done so Mackenzie Blackwood could participate in Monday’s AHL All-Star game. According to Hockey-Reference, Kinkaid is 13-14-6 with a .899 SV% and 3.10 GAA. He has 13 Quality Starts on the season for a 41.9% while he has had 7 Really Bad Starts for a 22.6%. Kinkaid has a -8.81 Goals Saved Above Average with a 110 GA%-, essentially playing 10% below the league average.

On the Pittsburgh side, Matt Murray is the projected starter. According to Hockey-Reference, he is 14-6-1 with a .913 SV% and 2.86 GAA. He has 12 Quality Starts on the season for a 54.5% as well as 7 Really Bad Starts for a 31.8%. He’s been worth 3.19 Goals Saved Above Average with a 95 GA%-. Murray has turned his game around since having a .877 SV% over his first 11 games. Over his last 11 games he has a .944 SV% so the Devils will have to take advantage of whatever chances they get tonight. Murray is likely to be backed up by Casey DeSmith who is 12-9-4 with a .917 SV% and 2.68 GAA on the season. He has 16 Quality Starts for a 66.7% and has been worth 7.64 Goals Saved Above Average.

Your Take: What are your expectations for this game? What line up are you hoping to see? Leave your comments below and thank you for reading!