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The most significant storyline going into tonight will be the Devil’s annual wearing of their original red, white, and green jerseys, a tradition that was first implemented about six years ago against this very same Penguins team. This is the fifth and final time the Devils and Penguins will meet this season, a series that was highlighted by an 8-3 mauling the Devils suffered in their first matchup this season. Since then however, the Devils have surrendered only four goals against the Penguins, going 1-1-1 over that stretch. This is New Jersey’s first game back after finishing their final road trip out west, going 1-1-1, while the Penguins are coming off a 5-1 loss to Detroit and have lost three of their last four.
Offense…The Penguins have finished top-ten in scoring three years in a row, but currently find themselves twelfth amongst teams. Despite the drop, the Penguins still possess a lethal arsenal of forwards, even without Evgeni Malkin and Patric Hornqvist. Both players will respectively miss tonight’s game with lower-body and undisclosed injuries. These are two of their top-five scorers, who have combined for 15 of Pittsburgh’s 43 power play goals this season. The absences in Pittsburgh’s lineup merely give them an opportunity to display the depth they have up front, which will be spearheaded by a red hot Sidney Crosby who has four goals and 13 points in his last ten games.
Defense…The staple of the Pittsburgh defense is Kris Letang, who’s in the midst of a career year and on his second 50-point season for that matter. After Letang, there’s a steep drop in production amongst Pittsburgh’s defensemen. No defenseman has more than three goals, 17 points, and outside of Letang, the rest of Pittsburgh’s blue line corps has combined for 14 goals. Letang is only one of two Pittsburgh defensemen to have scored on the power play this year (the other being Derrick Poulliot). The fact that a Penguins defenseman hasn’t scored a goal in seven games indicates the lack of offensive support from their backend this season, a team flaw that’s overshadowed by their high-scoring offense.
Goaltending…This is Marc-Andre Fleury’s seventh 30-win season, a feat the Devils have been very helpful in him reaching. Fleury is 3-1-0 against the Devils this year, posting a 1.74 GAA and .921 SV%. Ironically, the Devils account for three of only eight wins Fleury has against the Metropolitan Division (he’s 8-10-2 against divisional opponents). Despite playing ten fewer games however, Fleury’s play on the road has been stellar, having a 12-5-4 record to show for it. It hasn’t been a productive March for Fleury, who’s gone 3-2-1 and surrendered three or more goals in three of those games.
Who to watch
Sidney Crosby…He’s averaged 1.10 points per game in 47 career matchups against the Devils and hasn’t skipped a beat with three goals and four points in four games against New Jersey this season. Without Malkin and Hornqvist, Crosby will surely elevate his game as he spearheads a still-potent offense that features players like Chris Kunitz, David Perron, and Brandon Sutter who will provide that complimentary support in their captain’s game.
Andy Greene…For a defenseman, he’s had a good track record against the Penguins throughout his career and is one of the Devil’s only top players to get on the score sheet against them this season. He’s been hot over his last seven games, during which he’s registered two goals and seven points, not to mention he’s scored three times in his last 11. It’s worth noting how Greene’s shots have also been on point lately. His three goals came off only nine shots, which is indicative of how defensively compliant Greene plays, but won’t shy away from being offensively opportunistic.
What to watch
The Devil’s top scorers…With Patrik Elias out (who has the best track record against the Penguins amongst forwards), it would be logical to assume the Devil’s offense will come from their top guys like Adam Henrique, Mike Cammalleri, and Scott Gomez. Although these three have combined for five goals and ten points over the last five games, only Adam Henrique has registered one point (goal) against Pittsburgh all season. Despite their low goal numbers, it certainly is a testament to how well the Pittsburgh defense has been able to shut down the Devil’s offensive core players, something they need to find a way around if they want to sabotage Pittsburgh’s postseason positioning.
Down to the wire…? Even with the 8-3 beat down Pittsburgh gave the Devils, only three of the 19 goals scored in their season series came in the first period. Eight were scored in the second (four apiece), and seven (with Pittsburgh scoring five) came in the third. In their last three games against each other, the Devils were held scoreless in the first period, while the Penguins didn’t score at all in the second. New Jersey has outscored Pittsburgh 5-1 in the last two periods of regulation over these three games. It’s worth mentioning that two out of three outcomes were decided by one goal; the other being a 3-1 Devils victory. If this trend carries over into tonight, we’ll probably see a lackluster first period with the bulk of any scoring that occurs, in the next two periods.
Where to watch
When to watch