DAB Pregame: Steel City Challenge

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Matchup Overview

In the wake of a valiant 4-0 shutout that pulled the New Jersey Devils out of a seven-game winless streak, their ability to string wins together will be put to the test tonight as they prepare to face off against another division rival in the Pittsburgh Penguins. The timing of this matchup certainly isn’t on New Jersey’s side, considering how they’re going into the arena of a team that’s shaking off a 7-1 beat down they suffered last night against the Columbus Blue Jackets. As of writing this, Coach Hynes hasn’t committed to a starting goalie. He’s been relatively consistent at splitting back-to-backs between Cory Schneider and Keith Kinkaid this year, but with the Christmas break coming I wouldn’t be surprised if Schneider gets the nod again. Especially considering how he’s coming off his first shutout performance of the season, you have to figure he’s accumulated some confidence in his game that the coaching staff will want to ride out.

New Jersey suffered a shootout loss against the Penguins back in November. -Getty Images

New Jersey suffered a shootout loss against the Penguins back in November. -Getty Images

After coming off a seven-game winning streak, the Penguins record has been spotty as of late with losses in three of their last four games. As previously mentioned, you have to figure the Penguins will be especially motivated tonight to shake off the pummeling they endured last night so the Devils need to be on their toes. Tonight’s matchup could set a precedent for the next time these two teams meet, which will be on the 27th of December after the NHL’s Christmas break concludes. The Devils will certainly have their hands full playing against the likes of Sidney Crosby, who has eight goals and 15 points in 11 games this month and currently leads the league in goals. Both Evgeni Malkin and Phil Kessel have maintained roughly a point per game over the past month, and all three were instrumental in Pittsburgh’s comeback victory against New Jersey back in November. Malkin tallied three assists, Crosby tied the game with 14 seconds remaining, while Kessel registered five shots on net. The Penguins roster depth goes well beyond their big three, however it should remain a priority for the Devils to pay especial attention in shutting these three down whenever they’re on the ice if they want any shot at coming out of Pittsburgh with a victory tonight.

 

Who to watch

Adam Henrique…Always known for being a relatively late bloomer, Henrique’s play has been in an upswing over the last couple of weeks. He has four goals and nine points in 11 games this month, and is coming out of last night’s victory with a goal and two points. Secondary scoring has been a glaring issue for New Jersey this year, which is why it’s integral for players like Henrique to start contributing.

Michael Cammalleri…In his last nine games, Cammalleri only has two assists and hasn’t scored since December third. The two goals he scored that night (New Jersey’s comeback win against the Predators) were the only tallies the 34-year old left wing has this month. It’s no coincidence that Cammalleri’s scoring drought has coincided with New Jersey’s seven-game winless streak, which shows how vital his offensive production is to this team’s success. With two goals in the New Jersey’s previous matchup against the Penguins this year, this could be the perfect opponent for Cammalleri to reignite his scoring prowess.

 

Keys to the game

Defensive zone coverage is going to be key for the Devils tonight. -Getty Images

Defensive zone coverage is going to be key for the Devils tonight. -Getty Images

Back to basics…As highlighted by commentator Ken Daneyko, the Devils need to simplify their game if they want to get back to the position they were in earlier this season. Regardless of how they go about it, they need to get as many pucks on net as possible without adhering to the need of making the perfect pass or pulling off any overly flashy or creative maneuvers. This formula paid dividends for the team in their first 15 games of the season, which their subsequent drop-off in shot totals backs up.

Defensive responsibility…One of New Jersey’s biggest demeanors have been their incessant breakdowns in their own zone, which derive from a lack of mobility, aggression, and proper positioning. The Devils can’t let Pittsburgh mobilize and set up around their goaltender tonight, and need to take away their passing and shooting lanes without obstructing their new minder’s vision- an annoyingly bad habit that’s caused countless goals over the past few weeks.

 

Where to watch

TVAS (Pittsburgh)

ROOT (Pittsburgh)

MSG +2 (Local)

 

When to watch

7:00pm EST

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