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Game Preview #27: New Jersey Devils vs. Pittsburgh Penguins

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The Devils play the Penguins tonight for the first time in 373 days.

NHL: MAR 10 Penguins at Devils
The last time the Devils played the Penguins, the stands were much more full than they are now.
Photo by Rich Graessle/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

The Matchup: The New Jersey Devils (9-13-4) versus the Pittsburgh Penguins (18-10-1). SBN Blog: PensBurgh

The Time: 7:00 PM

The Broadcast: TV - MSG+

First Meeting

The Devils have not played against the Pittsburgh Penguins this year. So far this year, Pittsburgh only has a losing record against the Flyers and Bruins, and has feasted on the weak competition from the Rangers and Sabres, against whom they are a combined 7-1-0. The usual suspects have been leading the Penguins this year, as Sidney Crosby, Jake Guentzel, and Evgeni Malkin lead the team in scoring with 29, 26, and 24 points, respectively. Bryan Rust, Kasperi Kapanen, and Kris Letang all also have 20 points. In net for the Penguins, Tristan Jarry has a .906 save percentage and a 2.89 goals against average to go with a 12-7-1 record. Casey DeSmith has backed up, and has a 6-3-0 record in nine starts and 10 appearances with a .915 save percentage and 2.22 goals against average. DeSmith just played on Tuesday for Pittsburg, when they lost 2-1 against the Bruins. Jarry last played on Monday, when they beat the Bruins 4-1.

The Penguins are dealing with some issues right now. They are already without Jason Zucker, and Mike Sullivan said on Tuesday that Teddy Blueger would be out long-term. Evgeni Malkin also had to leave the game, Tuesday, after this hit. Brandon Tanev would later take a game misconduct for boarding Jarred Tinordi. I don’t know how Tanev’s hit was called as boarding - though I would have agreed with a charging call.

I imagine the Penguins might be playing Radim Zohorna tonight. Zohorna has not yet made his NHL debut, but he is a 24 year old, 6’6”, 233-pound center who has nine points in 11 games for the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins this year. Zohorna also had 22 points in 21 games in the Czech league before coming to North America for the start of the NHL/AHL seasons.

Zohorna leads the AHL Penguins in point production this season, and I would be watching to see if he replaces Evgeni Malkin tonight. Losing Malkin would be a big blow to the Penguins right now, but the Devils would have to be careful not to give up any first career goals between now and Sunday.

Line Shakeup

The Devils are going with a slightly altered lineup for tonight, as the Johnsson-Hughes-Bratt line has been completely broken up and split between the second, third, and fourth lines. The only line that remains completely intact is the Kuokkanen-Zajac-Sharangovich line.

I think it’s interesting that Lindy Ruff has gone with Miles Wood and Nathan Bastian as wings for Jack Hughes. They are not the most skilled at handling the puck, though Bastian might be good at taking defenders out of the play on the forecheck. It might seem like an odd mashup of players, but that line could create some havoc as long as Hughes keeps his game simple and doesn’t circle around with the puck too much. I have not been a fan of Kyle Palmieri with Pavel Zacha this year, and wish Ruff would let Gusev have more of a chance with that line. I think Nikita Gusev fits Zacha and Bratt’s style of puck moving better anyway. A Johnsson-Maltsev-Palmieri line might work better defensively, too. However, the lines may change some more before the game starts tonight:

Obviously, I would like to see Pavel Zacha in the lineup tonight. The Devils are still a few weeks off from seeing Nico Hischier back on the ice, and it would be incredibly difficult for them to lose another option at center considering the success the Zajac line has had (Zajac, by the way, is up to 10 points in 22 games played). I doubt Lindy Ruff would want to have Yegor Sharangovich move back to center right now - and he hasn’t seemed too fond of Michael McLeod’s game since Mikhail Maltsev started getting into the lineup. Zacha is also in the middle of his best season yet, as he leads the team with 17 points in the team’s 26 games. Hopefully, he doesn’t have to lose his rhythm.

I would have also liked to see some changes to the defense, though I can’t really expect that after Sami Vatanen scored a goal in a 3-2 win. Vatanen still needs to get a lot better defensively - or I imagine Josh Jacobs will eventually get into the lineup. However, if Vatanen starts playing like the Sami Vatanen of the past few years, rather than continue his paltry scoring pace, then the Devils might not need to look for another option on defense until trades start happening.

Your Thoughts

What do you think about tonight’s game? Will you be watching? How do you think the Devils should deal with Zacha’s injury if he’s unable to play tonight? Do you think MacKenzie Blackwood will continue to play well? How do you feel about the Devils playing their first game against the Penguins of 2021? How many points will the Devils get between now and Sunday? Leave your thoughts in the comments below.