The Time: 1:00 PM EDT
The Broadcast: TV - MSG+; Radio - 660 AM WFAN
The Game: The New Jersey Devils (29-19-3) vs. the Pittsburgh Penguis (30-18-4)
The Last Devils Game: It was a tale of two games. The first game was a superb 40 minute effort where everything went the Devils' way. A shorthanded goal by Ilya Kovalchuk, production from their third line, a classic Zach Parise drive to the net and great saves by Johan Hedberg led the Devils to a 6-0 lead after two periods over the Philadelphia Flyers. The second game was a 20 minute debacle where the Devils gave 4 goals back, the officiating crew let the game get out of hand and the Philadelphia goon squad ended up taking shots at Devils players. Luckily the Devils were able to escape the most overrated city in America with a 6-4 victory.
The only good part of the second game was when Ilya Kovalchuk beat the living daylights out of Brayden Schenn. It was a right cross to remember. Memo to Schenn: As you ice your cheek this morning remember that you got hit because you were defending trashbag Zac Rinaldo. If you haven't seen Kovalchuk drop Schenn, feel free to view it here. John's recap of the game is here, and you can get the Flyer perspective from Broad Street Hockey.
The Last Penguins Game: Pittsburgh, facing back-to-back road afternoon games after a tough loss to Toronto, bounced back with a solid, physical effort against the reigning Stanley Cup Champion Boston Bruins. Their play with a physical edge (injuring at various times Dennis Seidenberg, Brad Marchand, Joe Corvo) and a timely goal by Evegeni Malkin in the last seconds of the first period which helped a 28 save effort by Marc-Andre Fleury, gave the Penguins a 2-1 victory over the Bruins. Pensburgh has their recap of the game here.
The Last Devils-Penguins Game: It was less than a month ago when the Devils went to Pittsburgh and were led by terrific games from Martin Brodeur (41 saves) and Ilya Kovalchuk (GWG, 8 shots, assist) to take a 3-1 victory over the Pittsburgh Penguins. The game started a four game road trip for the Devils (the remaining three games in Western Canada) off on the right foot and Brodeur and the Devils fought off a great effort by the Penguins trio of Evgeni Malkin, Chris Kunitz and James Neal, who dominated the Devils in puck possession. (Corsi stats for that game here.) John's recap of that game is here.
The Goal: Status Quo. When the Devils returned from the All Star Break, I was concerned that five games in the course of one week could be problematic. They were playing two games against the Rangers, and one each against Pittsburgh, Philadelphia and Montreal. Out of those five games I thought, at best, a 3-2 record or six points would be a good record for the mini-stretch. With six points in the first three games, the Devils have outperformed my expectations. There are still two tough opponents left in this stretch of eastern conference opponents, but so far so good. During this three game winning streak the Devils have matched their opponents' physicality, played sharp special teams and have received good goaltending. To continue to beat teams like Pittsburgh and the Rangers they will need to keep playing this way.
After the jump I will go over a few more items that I think will affect the outcome of this game. Head over to Pensburgh.com for the Penguins fan perspective.
Brent Johnson plays well versus the Devils. With the afternoon back-to-back games I am not sure if the Devils will see Penguins starter Marc-Andre Fleury (who played yesterday) or back-up Brent Johnson (who played Wednesday). While not at the level of a Fleury, Johnson is a solid backup who plays well against the Devils. Despite a 2-5-3 record in 13 games played, Johnson sports a .924 save percentage with a 2.16 goals against average.
Can the patchwork defense hold it up on back-to-back nights? With Adam Larsson questionable for today's game (and probably out) the Devils will likely ice the same seven defensemen they did against Philadelphia. In addition to Larsson's injury this will also be the first set of back-to-back games that Andy Greene has faced since his return from a toe injury and don't forget the fact that Bryce Salvador has been dinged up since Tuesday's game against the Rangers and has been limited in practices.
Considering the tons of special teams time and the lopsided score, the defensive unit wasn't really tested. Assuming today's game is closer, than we might see some adjustments to the forward lines to help counter the Malkin line. Perhaps Patrik Elias is reunited with Petr Sykora and Dainius Zubrus to help whichever defensive pairing gets the Malkin assignment.
Power Play Success...Will it Continue?: The Devils have had a pretty good week on the power play. The Canadiens, Rangers and to a lesser degree the Flyers all have formidable penalty killing units. The Devils broke through against all three and now face another top ranked PK unit with the Penguins. In a game that could be a low scoring affair, being able to convert on the power play will be very helpful in the Devils' quest for two points.
The Start of a Competent Bottom Six? Recent acquisitions Steve Bernier and Alexei Ponikarovsky have added experience, size and some scoring to the bottom six forwards. Kovalchuk, Parise, Clarkson and Elias can't score every goal and secondary/tertiery scoring will be needed for this team to make a playoff run. The fourth line is still problematic, but I hope as the Devils get healthy the likes of Ryan Carter, Eric Boulton, etc. can be replaced with a better quality of player. The Devils have them (Vladimir Zharkov, Steve Zalewski, Stephane Villeiux), they just need to utilize them.
Thanks for reading and please add any new updates, lineup changes, comments, etc. below