For the third time this season, these two will meet. Each have a win against each other. Who will prevail between the visitors who are 3-6-1 in their last ten against the home team who's 7-2-1 in their last ten? Let's learn a little more about this game.
The Time: 7:00 PM EST
The Broadcast: TV - MSG+; Radio - 660 AM & 101.9 FM WFAN
The Last Devils Game: It started off so, so well in Columbus. Travis Zajac scored on the game's very first shot, as he made Fedor Tyutin and Curtis McElhinney look slow in the process. The Devils just pounded the Blue Jackets in terms of possession. They got a very fortunate bounce as Brandon Dubinsky's shot was stopped by Martin Brodeur, only to carom off Cam Atkinson's calf right in front of the pad to knock it in the net. But the Devils re-took a lead when Adam Henrique forced McElhinney to give up a juicy rebound that Michael Ryder converted on. Early in the second period, Patrik Elias set up Damien Brunner - yes, that Damien Brunner - right in front for a goal to make it 3-1. Then it all started to fall apart. The Devils had little answer for Dubinsky, who was really up for this game, and his linemates Matt Calvert and Atkinson. Off a rebound after a faceoff, Atkinson poked the puck past Brodeur and Dubinsky knocked it into the net. About a minute later, Anton Volchenkov got stung, Atkinson was just hanging out by the right post, Dubinsky had the space to set him up for a point-blank one-timer. The Devils struggled to attack. Right off the first shift of the third period, Dubinsky and Calvert struck home on a 2-on-2 to make it 3-4 Columbus. The Devils finally started to attack and just ravaged Columbus for the better part of twenty minutes. Brunner put home a rebound off an Elias shot to make it 4-4 late. But all of a sudden, the quiet Ryan Johansen unit awoke. They pinned the Devils back late and Johansen fired a pass into the crease that Mike Foligno re-directed into the net off his skate. The Blue Jackets came out winners 5-4 in a game that the Devils really shouldn't have let get away from them. I was not happy in my recap and, really, no Devils fan was after that one.
The Last Penguins Game: The Penguins played Columbus on Monday. So instead of re-writing that, here's what I had from the Devils-Columbus preview:
On Monday night, the Blue Jackets visited the Pittsburgh Penguins. Columbus decided to do more of the attacking early, but a scoreless first period was the result. Pittsburgh upped their shooting and the returning Evgeni Malkin stuck. He torched Fedor Tyutin and then Curtis McElhinny's five-hole for a goal. A nasty altercation between Robert Bartuzzo and Brandon Dubinsky ensued early in the third period, which got them both misconducts. Dubinsky even got a game misconduct too. Still, as Columbus pushed for an equalizer, out-shooting the Pens 13-6 in the third, the Penguins got a second goal off a crazy bounce off Nick Foligno's skate and then Sidney Crosby's leg to make it 2-0. Columbus would get on the board late thanks to Matt Calvert.
The Last Devils-Penguins Game: Back on November 16, the Devils hosted the Penguins and it was a lovely night. Well, it didn't really start that way as the Pens forced Martin Brodeur to be great early with ten first period shots. Fortunately, he was great. The Devils struggled to find the target but they did get a gift. A bouncing puck from Andy Greene managed to fool Marc-Andre Fleury to give the home team an improbable 1-0 lead late in the period. In the second period, the Devils managed to make it more of a game. But the Pens would respond first. Marek Zidlicky couldn't handle a puck at the blueline and Chris Kunitz made him pay. He took it the length of the ice and beat Brodeur one-on-one to make it 1-1. Near the end of the second, the Devils would re-take the lead. A lovely zone entry by Dainius Zubrus allowed him to lay it off for Travis Zajac. Adam Larsson jumped up with Zajac and so the center gave it to the young defender. He delayed a bit and then beat Fleury with a great wrister. As Brodeur denied some of the best attempts from Pittsburgh as if it was 2003, the Devils extended their lead. Kris Letang coughed up the puck in his own end (thanks to Zubrus' pressure) and Jaromir Jagr made him and Fleury pay for it. A pretty empty netter from Jagr sealed a 4-1 win on what was (and still is) the best team in the division. My recap of the win is here. Over at PensBurgh, Natasha66 had this recap of the loss.
The Goal: Attack, attack, and attack some more. This seems like a strange strategy. We know the Devils aren't an offensive team. Moreover, the Penguins are actually better than the Devils in terms of possession and they have averaged only 25.3 shots against per 60 minutes at even strength, one of the lowest in the league. But I don't think those figures don't take into account the current state of Pittsburgh's defense, which is without Paul Martin, Brooks Orpik, and Rob Scuderi. Their first game without all three saw Columbus put up 33 on them and they're a low-shooting team like New Jersey (by which I mean they are only a few shots ahead of the Devils on average). While Kris Letang may be turning a corner, as Hooks Orpik wrote at PensBurgh last night, and could be really good tonight, he is just one man. Throw in the fact that the mercurial Marc-Andre Fleury, who seems to have good numbers but some very strange nights, will likely be in net and I think this team is vulnerable in the back. The Devils have put up at least 30 shots in three of their last five games, so they've brought their shooting skates to the rink. If Fleury is fighting pucks early or the other five defenders for Pittsburgh aren't cohesive, then I want the Devils to pounce on that as soon as possible. I don't think they're going to win by being passive and/or hoping their goalie bails them out a lot like the last Devils-Penguins game. They need to take initiative to force bad plays from the opposition and to make good plays themselves going forward. They need to force Fleury and who is essentially their #6 - #8 defensemen to be great. They can only do that if they attack tonight.
But Don't Get Careless: However, the Devils need to do this with discipline. This doesn't just mean keeping your stick on the ice and The Penguins have the most successful power play rate in the league prior to Thursday's games at 26.1%. That's right, they're over a quarter. What's more is that it's not a case of just hot sticks. The Penguins are solidly in the top-five in both shots per 60 minutes and shots through per 60 minutes on all power plays this season. Anyone who is vaguely familiar with the NHL can guess as to why they're so good on the power play and in general. (Aside: I'm not even bothering with the Devils' power play, especially since Pittsburgh's PK is right up there with the Devils'.)
The World's Best: Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin are two of the best players in the world. You probably already know this but it needs to be said. Crosby leads the whole league in scoring with 16 goals and 27 assists. He's not even shooting at a ridiculously high rate; he's just that dominant on the puck. Malkin has struggled to score all season long and he only has eight goals. He also has 30 assists, so he's third in the league in scoring in spite of a scoring slump. Each have 17 power play points, which puts them behind only one guy named Ovechkin for the league lead in power play points. Clearly, they drive much of Pittsburgh's production at evens and on the power play. With these two, it's not a case of whether or not you can stop them, just that you hope to contain them.
What makes this duo even more dangerous is that they are usually apart from one another. Crosby usually rolls with Chris Kunitz and Pascal Dupuis. Both skate swiftly and know exactly what to do when Crosby's directing the play. As a result, those three dominate in possession as well as putting up boatloads of points. Kunitz has been especially impressive with his team-leading 17 goals (and team-leading 8 PPGs) and 14 assists. Just ask Marek Zidlicky. The game plan against this line cannot be just stopping #87 and that only makes it even more of a challenge.
Malkin's line has been more in flux, which may explain why he's not as strong in Corsi%. He's usually with the high-shooting James Neal. He's a threat for that alone along with his ten goals and ten assists in sixteen games this season. But that won't happen tonight as Neal is serving a way-too-short suspension for kneeing Brad Marchand in the head. Jussi Jokinen has been his other regular linemate and he's a good player in his own right. He's got nine goals and ten assists. Yet, that trio hasn't been together for one reason (Neal's injury, now Neal's supension) or another. Left Wing Lock (a great site, by the way) claims Jayson Megna was with Malkin and Jokinen in the Columbus game. We'll see whether that stays together. But doubting Malkin is a good way to get unhappy later.
Press the Depth: Josh Yohe highlighted Brandon Sutter in this article at the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review's website. Namely it's about he's been performing with so many different forwards. While Yohe focuses on his lack of production, I think it's contributed to the harsh reality that he's been a 45% Corsi player on one of the best possession teams in the league. Believe it or not, but Chris Connor and Joe Vitale, although he's above 50%, really aren't play drivers. Shocking, I know. And the fourths aren't much better. This is where the Devils really should try to make their advances. It won't be easy as Dan Bylsma will appropriately use the Crosby and Malkin lines a lot. But short of either line having a bad game, the Devils will have to make the most of their time without one of the league's most talented forwards being on the ice. I don't know how the matching will go given that the game is in Pittsburgh but if, somehow, Travis Zajac and Jaromir Jagr gets to go up against their bottom six then I'm going to smile when it happens. The numbers justify this.
The #1 Goalie: The numbers also justify those who want Cory Schneider to be the starting goalie. I have to agree. Brodeur's hot November seems like an eternity ago whereas Schneider is still looking good. Tom Gulitti did report at Fire & Ice on Thursday that Schneider will start in net. He is the better goalie; there can be no other choice against an offensive juggernaut like Pittsburgh. I just hope he doesn't get shelled and have to play out of his mind to continue to get games. It is a results-oriented business, after all.
As for Pittsburgh, it's not confirmed but I would expect it to be Marc-Andre Fleury. He played a very good game against Columbus, he's had three days off, the team is really banged up, and he's been getting the majority of starts for the Pens this season. I don't think Bylsma puts out Jeff Zatkoff for this one, but I could be wrong. Again, Fleury's got some good numbers - especially a ludicrous 93% on the PK - but he's been known to be really off at times. Let's hope for a repeat of that.
Devils Changes: Do not expect any changes on defense. Anton Volchenkov did skate on Thursday, as reported in this Thursday post by Gulitti, so he should be OK for tonight. I hope he's better on the puck because he was one of the few Devils to struggle at getting the puck out against Columbus on Tuesday. I'm not expecting him to be like Marek Zidlicky, but even he's got to be able to clear the zone a few times per game. Peter Harrold was placed on injured reserve, which may open up a spot whenever Bryce Salvador gets ready to play.
There may be one change up front. Unfortunately, it's not to take Cam Janssen out, though that's probably the least of the team's concerns. Gulitti from Thursday's skate that Andrei Loktionov skated with Mattias Tedenby. Gulitti figured that should be a sign that Loktionov will be scratched. I have to agree. Tedenby has been scratched so much that he's agreed to play some games in Albany for conditioning purposes. So spending time with him may mean he'll get this game off. That should also mean Jacob Josefson gets another shot in the lineup. Let's hope he makes the most of it.
One Last Note: Brunner, keep going to the net and you may get more pucks to put home.
Your Take: The Devils really could use a big win over a great team like Pittsburgh. Will they get it tonight? Can they hold Crosby and his line along with Malkin and his line to very little? Who do you think on the Devils needs to do well tonight for the Devils to succeed? Please leave your answers and other thoughts about this game in the comments. Thank you for reading.