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Game Preview #49: New Jersey Devils vs. Pittsburgh Penguins

The New Jersey Devils host the Pittsburgh Penguins on a Super Bowl Sunday matinee. Can the Devils make it 3 wins in a row as they take on their division rivals?

NHL: Pittsburgh Penguins at New Jersey Devils
Dougie Hamilton was back at practice Saturday. Will he play today?
Vincent Carchietta-USA TODAY Sports

The Matchup: The New Jersey Devils (17-26-5, 39 points) host the Pittsburgh Penguins (29-11-8, 66 points) SB Nation Blog: Pensburgh

The Time: 1:30 PM ET

The Broadcast: TV - MSG+, ESPN+. RADIO - Devils Hockey Network (Access through NHL.com or the SiriusXM app)

The last Devils game

The Devils capped off a three-game road trip with a 7-4 win over the St. Louis Blues on Thursday. Chris had the recap of that one and went out of his way to highlight the big performances by Nico Hischier and Yegor Sharangovich, who each had a three point night. I agree with his assessment that the Devils would be wise to keep that pairing intact. Jon Gillies wasn’t great in net for the Devils, but I guess when you score 5 goals and chip in a pair of empty-netters, you don’t have to be great.

The last Penguins game

The Penguins got the last laugh against Matt Murray and the Ottawa Senators in a 2-0 shutout win three days ago. Murray played brilliantly for Ottawa in his first game against his former team, stopping 42 of 43 shots, but Casey DeSmith was even better with the 26 save shutout. Veteran center Jeff Carter scored the lone goal against Murray while Bryan Rust chipped in an empty netter with 12 seconds to go for the exclamation point. Rust’s goal was his 15th in the last 15 games, as he stays white hot.

The last Devils-Penguins game

The Devils last faced the Penguins in a 3-2 loss on December 19th, in what wound up being the final game before the Omicron variant forced the NHL to postpone and reschedule games and started the Christmas break a couple days early.

Chris had the recap of that game as well and if you recall, this game was on the back end of a back-to-back as the Devils lost in Detroit the night before. Lindy Ruff had called out his top players going into the Pittsburgh game. How did the players respond? Not well. Jack Hughes looked disengaged and had a key giveaway on a power play that led to a Teddy Blueger shorthanded goal. The Devils got destroyed at 5v5 despite being down essentially the entire game. Lindy Ruff’s line blender was in full effect and the results were mixed at best. Nico Hischier was out for that game due to COVID protocols, so Michael McLeod’s line was matched up against Sidney Crosby’s line. It went poorly for McLeod and it took a minor miracle for them not to get scored on as Crosby ate his lunch repeatedly.

You Win Some, You Lose Some...

The Devils got a measure of good news Saturday as Jack Hughes (COVID protocols) and Dougie Hamilton (broken jaw) returned to practice. Hughes will be back in the lineup today, while Hamilton is a little more touch-and-go at the moment. For now, consider Hamilton questionable until we see him taking warmups before a game.

That’s it for the good news, so I’m now about to write a sentence that I’ve written roughly 20 other times already in game previews this season. Here goes....

Because the Devils are not allowed to have nice things ever, OF COURSE we got some bad news as well. Janne Kuokkanen has been out of the lineup due to a wrist injury. Oh, and the Devils leading scorer is hurt. Because of course he is.

At least its nice to finally have confirmation that Bratt wasn’t benched against the Blues. It would’ve been nice to have known this on Thursday after he missed the final 16:06 of the game, which in turn led Devils fans to speculate whether or not he was actually injured or being benched for reasons. But its better late than never to get confirmation, I suppose.

For now, I would expect Hughes to draw into the lineup in Bratt’s spot (with Hughes replacing Kuokkanen on the active roster). As for how the lines shape up is anyone’s guess. Hughes took Bratt’s spot at wing in practice, but I would implore the Devils NOT to do that in a game as the “Hughes as a winger” experiment has NEVER worked any other time the Devils have tried it so why the hell would it work now?

I’d probably try these combinations if they let me make such decisions.

Sharangovich-Hischier-Mercer

Johnsson-Hughes-Tatar

Boqvist-Zacha-Vesey

Geertsen-McLeod-Bastian

Siegenthaler-Severson

Smith-Subban

White-Graves (with Hamilton obviously replacing White if he’s good to go)

What do the Pens bring to the table?

I keep telling myself that eventually, the Penguins, Bruins, and Capitals are going to age out of their window of contention and fall back to the rest of the pack. And while that statement might be true someday in Pittsburgh’s case, it’s not true today or as it pertains to the 2021-22 season.

As of this writing, the Penguins currently sit one point behind the Hurricanes for first place in the Metropolitan division (although Carolina has three games in hand). Pittsburgh still boasts a Top 10 offense, the second best penalty kill in the league, and fantastic goaltending as Tristan Jarry is enjoying a nice bounceback season. It’s a testament to the outstanding job Mike Sullivan has done as Penguins coach as he’s missed key players for long stretches of the season.

Of course, you can’t talk about the Penguins without talking about Sidney Crosby, who sits at 499 career goals, so you just know he’s getting #500 against the Devils. For his career, Crosby has 38 G and 46 A against New Jersey, and has only scored more against the Islanders (39 G) and Flyers (49 G).

I already mentioned Rust, who has 15 goals in his last 15 games. Jake Guentzel is their leading scorer with 49 points (23 G, 26 A) in 42 games. Kris Letang is just shy of a PPG pace, as he inches closer to his 35th birthday. Evan Rodrigues has cooled off considerably with only 3 points in his last 15 games, but the Penguins have plenty of other guys who have picked up the slack.

The Penguins will also be getting Evgeni Malkin from COVID protocols, so more good news for them. Here’s how they’ll likely line up for today’s game.

Final Thoughts

What do you think about today’s matchup? Can the Devils find a way to beat the Penguins for their third straight win? Please feel free to leave a comment below and thank you for reading!