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Game Preview #6: New Jersey Devils vs the Pittsburgh Penguins

The scariest thing coming into this Halloween weekend is the injured list of both teams. Which team will overcome it to take the win?

NHL: Calgary Flames at New Jersey Devils Ed Mulholland-USA TODAY Sports

The Matchup: The New Jersey Devils (3-2-0) vs the Pittsburgh Penguins (3-2-2).

SBN Blog: PensBurgh

The Time: 7:00 PM

The Broadcast: TV - MSG+

Coming into Tonight:

Things haven’t been great for the Devils lately. The loss of Jack Hughes, Miles Wood, and both goaltenders has really put a strain on the Devils systems, which has shown itself in slow starts, lack of offense, and some painful losses.

The good news, however, is that injury-wise we still look way better than the Penguins do to start this season. The Penguins have been playing without Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, Kris Letang, Bryan Rust, and Jeff Carter due to a combination of injuries and COVID issues. Although this didn’t seem to hurt them too much a few games ago when they obliterated the Toronto Maple Leafs 7-1 with their squad of Drew O’Connor and the Backyardigans, it hasn’t served them very well since then. In their last two games, they’ve lost 4-0 to the Calgary Flames and 5-1 to the Tampa Bay Lightning.

To be fair, I have no idea how Toronto lost so badly to the dilapidated Pens when the gameflow looked like this:

But I digress. Suffice it to say, the Pens injury luck has looked worse than ours.

Of course, that luck looks like it’s about to change against our favor, as expected, as both Jeff Carter and Sidney Crosby will be game-time decisions for tomorrow. This announcement came within an hour of the Devils’ announcement that Jack Hughes’ shoulder progress is to be re-evaluated in 5 weeks. Granted, 6 weeks is a pretty good return date for a dislocated joint, but it’s still a brutal loss for our team. Miles Wood has also been referred to as ‘the furthest from return’, which puts him at minimum mid-December. How we went from “a few bumps and bruises” to an indefinite return date pending ‘special testing’, I have no idea. If I had to hazard a guess: the lack of progression, timeline, or upper/lower body injury designation, the need for tests, and the initial ‘it’s just a bump&bruise’ statement from Wood all make me think post-concussion symptoms, which would fit with the lack of any obvious injury sign such as a sling or boot on him in the photos from the Halloween party this week as well. Of course, that’s just a complete guess and they could very well come out tomorrow and say it turns out he just offended his pinky and he’ll be back for Tuesday’s game, so let’s all just cross our fingers for that. In positive news, Mackenzie Blackwood is both partly vaccinated and feeling better from his heel issues. He likely won’t be back tonight, but said he could be back within a week.

One player who will be in the lineup for Pittsburgh is fan-favorite Brian Boyle, so don’t forget to write up a big We Love You sign before you go to The Rock dressed as Rick Flair tonight.

The lack of their top players has also shown up on Pittsburgh’s powerplay, which is only 4 for 25 coming into tonight. The Devils’ 3 for 13 is starting to look pretty good compared to that. Unfortunately, the loss of top players has not hurt the Penguins’ penalty kill whatsoever: they are the best in the league right now with a 94.12% kill rate. The Devils, on the other hand, are fourth from last, with a fitting 66.667% kill rate.

The takeaway? DO NOT take penalties, and DO NOT bet your life savings on the Devils scoring a powerplay goal tonight. Specials teams are absolutely not going to win this game for us, but they sure could lose it for us.

The Lines:

Assuming Crosby and Carter are good to go:

Guentzel - Crosby - Rodrigues
Zucker - Carter - Kapanen
Aston-Reese - Blueger - McGinn
O’Connor - Boyle - Heinen

Dumoulin - Marino
Matheson - Friedman/Rudwedel
Petterson - Rikola

Jarry/DeSmith

For the Devils, based on their last practice:

Zacha - Hischier - Tatar
Johnsson - Mercer - Bratt
Sharangovitch - McLeod - Vesey
Kuokkanen - Gauthier - Studenic

Graves - Hamilton
Siegenthaler - Subban
Smith - Severson

Wedgewood/Bernier

I really like these lines. I love the swap of Bratt and Tatar for this game. While Bratt did respond well to his benching last game, I think he does need to show up consistently and bring some better play and score some points, just generally do something noticeable before being promoted back up to the top line. Hopefully we’ll see some more of the spark he showed at the end of last game tonight. Tatar has been solid and deserves the shot up on the first line. Additionally, I am over the moon to see Graves back with Hamilton. It was painful just watching him play without him. I do hope we pull up someone to replace Hughes since it is evident this will be at least a slightly long-term absence, perhaps someone whose name rhymes with Shmalexmander Shmoltz, but I will take these lines for now.

I’ll be keeping a keep eye on Sharangovitch and Mercer tonight. Both have the dynamic skills to make up some of what is missing with Hughes’ absence, and I’m curious to see who steps up to fill those shoes.

Your Take:

Let’s hear your predictions heading into tonight’s game. Do we win? Do we give up 8 powerplay goals? Will we ever call up Holtz or will someone else step in to fill out our lineup? Leave your thoughts and predictions in the comments, and thanks for reading!