With one win in their last seven games, it doesn’t appear likely the New Jersey Devils will get just their second win, since their 4-0-0 start tonight. Facing them for the first time this season, the Pittsburgh Penguins are winless in their last three contests, their most recent being a 5-0 beatdown against the Toronto Maple Leafs last Saturday. Pittsburgh will come out ready and with heightened expectations of themselves, considering the current state and recent play of their opponents. Leading the charge for Pittsburgh are the usual suspects— Evgeni Malkin, Phil Kessel, and Sidney Crosby, all of whom are averaging well over a point-per-game. With 20 points in 12 games this season, Malkin is currently fourth in NHL scoring, having scored four goals and five points in his last four contests.
Based off the morning skate, it appears the only notable lineup change will be swapping Joey Anderson for Kurtis Gabriel, while Keith Kinkaid is slated to make his 11th start of the season. The rest of Saturday night’s lineup appears intact. Pittsburgh looks to be swapping defender Juuso Riikola for Chad Ruhwedel. Phil Kessel (despite a previous health scare) is good to go, while center Derick Brassard remains sidelined and won’t lace up tonight. Matt Murray is set to start in goal.
Keys to the Game
Staying out of the box…A recurring theme for the Devils in recent games, who enter tonight with the fourth-highest average of penalty minutes per game (11:05). Although Pittsburgh and New Jersey have posted virtually similar power play numbers this season, the Devils can’t give these opportunities to teams like the Penguins, who feature three of the league’s best forwards—whose skills will be on full display during the man advantage. I doubt it happens but if Coach Hynes wants to send a message, he should start benching players who take careless undisciplined penalties, regardless of the culprit.
Second line scoring…It’s quite clear at this point that the Devils are ultimately, a one-line team. This makes them easy to play against, as we’ve seen in the games since their 4-0-0 start. The key to defeating this team is contain their first line and use your supplemental scoring depth to overpower New Jersey’s second through fourth offensive units. With Zacha’s demotion to Binghamton, Coach Hynes has slotted Travis Zajac as a plugin for his No. 2 center. Hopes are high Zajac’s chemistry with Miles Wood can get Marcus Johansson going, all of whom had an uninspiring showing on Saturday.
Performance in the face-off dot…The Devils are hovering slightly above the 10-worst teams in the face-off dot, while Pittsburgh is among the league’s better teams at taking draws. Travis Zajac (57.2) and Nico Hischier (38.1) are New Jersey’s top face-off takers, but the polarizing difference in numbers between them has caused headaches when it comes to taking draws—especially on special teams. We’ve seen multiple instances this season where teams have scored on New Jersey right after winning a face-off, so minimizing face-off losses has to be one of the Devils’ top priorities tonight.
Where to watch
When to watch
This could just be a side-effect from having a case of the “Mondays”, but I don’t have a very good vibe going into tonight’s contest. The Penguins—who are indisputably the much better team—will be hungry going into tonight’s bout, and wanting to rebound after their crushing loss to Toronto two nights earlier. New Jersey on the other hand, still seems to be finding ways of stabilizing important areas of their lineup, and are very easy to contain.
Pittsburgh wins 4-1.