Your New Jersey Devils and Pittsburgh Penguins once again find each other squaring-off to start an NHL season. These two teams have combined for 6 of the last 8 Atlantic Division Championships, and have represented the Eastern Conference in the Stanley Cup Finals four times in the past 10 NHL seasons. The Devils will look to start the 2013-14 season off right after missing the playoffs last year, while the Penguins will look for some consistency from their goaltenders and return to the Stanley Cup Finals.
With the 2013-14 season looming closer, we’ll be taking a look at the new and old Division match-ups in the new formed Metropolitan Division in this weekly blog. This week we take a look at a team that has had continued success over the years, much like the Devils, the Pittsburgh Penguins.
Game Time: 1:00 PM
TV: NHLN-US, MSG+
Radio: WFAN 660 AM, 101.9 FM
The New Jersey Devils (3-0-3) will face-off for the first time this season against the Pittsburgh Penguins (4-3-0) Saturday afternoon in Pittsburgh. Both teams played their most recent games Thursday evening, with the Devils falling in overtime to the Islanders, and the Penguins shutting out the New York Rangers 3-0. Last season, the Devils split the series with the Penguins, finishing 3-3-0, finishing 1-2-0 in Pittsburgh. Ilya Kovalchuk led the Devils in goals (4) and points (11) against the Penguins last season.
New Jersey Devils
While getting at least a point in every game this season, the Devils realize that some changes have to be made to get back to their winning ways. Coach Peter DeBoer said after Thursday’s OT loss, “We didn’t deserve to win. We didn’t play well enough to win. We lost the special teams battles. We lost the faceoff battle. I said this before: You get what you deserve in this game. We had some opportunities to win, but we didn’t play well enough to earn two points.” The Devils only managed to kill 1 penalty out of 4 against the Islanders, by far their worst performance of the year while short-handed after only giving up 3 goals on their previous 36 times short-handed. If there’s any silver-lining to be taken from Thursday’s game, it’s the way the Devils played while they were down during the game. The Devils were down 2-0, 3-2, and 4-3 and managed to tie the game each time. While the Devils struggled in a lot of areas, they did a good job of making up for it offensively. They’ll be looking to their defense and their special teams to help right the ship this weekend.
The Penguins, always a strong contender in the Atlantic Division, are off to a less-than-favorable start to the shortened season. Despite the shutout win over the Rangers on Thursday night, they were almost shutout by the Islanders on Tuesday, finally breaking through Nabokov with 69 seconds left in the game. The Penguins are also winless at home (0-2-0) falling to the Islanders and the Toronto Maple Leafs 5-2. Marc-Andre Fleury (2-2-0, 2.95 GAA, 0.890 Sv%) is usually Pittsburgh’s go-to-goalie, but Tomas Vokoun (2-1-0, 1.81 GAA, 0.940 Sv%) has made a strong case for himself this season. As always, Evgeni Malkin (2G, 6A) and Sidney Crosby (3G, 4A) lead the team in points.
What to Watch For
If you weren’t a fan of David Clarkson before this season started, chances are you are now. Clarkson (4G, 4A) has registered a point in all six of the Devils games so far this season and currently holds the scoring lead for the team. Patrik Elias (2G, 5A) has also been hot for the Devils, as he looks to improve on his franchise records. Ilya Kovalchuk has always been lethal against the Penguins, registering 24 goals and 24 assists in 42 games against Pittsburgh. Devils goalie Martin Brodeur (3-0-2, 2.32 GAA, 0.913 Sv5) had a bit of an off night against the Islanders, but is still very solid on the season. Look for a bounce-back game from Marty to make up for his performance on Thursday. With Crosby, Malkin, and Neal combining for 10 of the Penguins’ 18 goals, they’ll be the three players the Devils defense will look to shutdown Saturday afternoon. Expect the Devils defense to play a much more conservative, controlled game than we saw on Thursday evening, but also expect the offense to keep up the pressure and continue scoring.
(headline by @Bcallow_74)
3 stars of the game:
3rd star – Matt Cooke (Penguins: 2 goals)
2nd star – Evgeni Malkin (Penguins: 1 goal, 1 assist)
1st star – Sidney Crosby (Penguins: 3 assists)
First of all, before getting to anything related to the game itself, I wanted to take the opportunity to give a huge shoutout to the Devils organization for a phenomenal job with Retro Day 2012. It started with the retro cap giveaway entering the arena today, then we were treated to Bob Arsena’s voice (and the voice of the Devils during the Brendan Byrne Arena/Continental Airlines Arena days) for the second straight year. The Devils also used their goal horn from the pre-lockout days as well (I’m not sure if they would have used it last year, as they were shut out last year), and even returned to their old introduction video and music on the Jumbotron. So, to the Devils, today was a job well done.
As we sat in a sold out Prudential Center today, we were optimistic that perhaps the Devils would be the team to snap the Pittsburgh Penguins’ seemingly never-ending winning streak. After all, the Devils had won the last three games against Pittsburgh, and the last time Sidney Crosby and the Penguins were healthy, in 2009-10, the Devils swept the season series, so there was reason for optimism. It didn’t take very long for the optimism to wear off, though. The Penguins did something that actual penguins can’t do: they were flying from the opening face-off to the final horn. They absolutely dominated the Devils on Saturday afternoon in a game where the Devils were never really in it at all.
Just 1:55 into the game, Marek Zidlicky got beat by Chris Kunitz, and Zidlicky resorted to taking him down on a partial breakaway. Some would argue that Zidlicky knocked the puck off Kunitz’s stick before he took Kunitz down, but regardless, the officials awarded Kunitz a penalty shot. Martin Brodeur stopped him, and kept the Devils in it for most of the afternoon, because if Brodeur hadn’t been as strong as he was, the game would have been much more lopsided. Despite Brodeur’s strong play, the Penguins scored two face-offs and four seconds after the penalty shot. Evgeni Malkin won the face-off cleanly, and James Neal fired his 32nd of the season past Brodeur.
The Penguins absolutely dominated play for most of the first period. They controlled the puck and forced the Devils’ defensemen into mistakes, yet still allowed no room for the Devils to set up offensively. At one point, the Penguins had 11 of 12 shots on goal overall. Pittsburgh finished the period up 14-6 in the shots department. Six shots would be the most they allowed in any period in this game. However, with 3:03 to go in the first period, Ilya Kovalchuk led a 3-on-2 rush, dropped the puck to the trailer, Andy Greene, and Greene wristed the puck just under the crossbar to tie the game, 1-1, which held through the first intermission. It was Greene’s first goal of the season.
The Devils had no answer to the Pens’ first period dominance in the second period. For the first ten minutes of the period, Brodeur’s at-times brilliant play kept the Devils and Penguins tied, but ten seconds past the halfway point of regulation and the second period, Pittsburgh struck again. Jordan Staal dropped the puck to Pascal Dupuis down the left side, and Dupuis slapped the puck into the net to make it 2-1 Penguins. 1:34 after Dupuis’ goal, Sidney Crosby threw the puck across the crease and Matt Cooke knocked it in off his skate. Like Greene’s goal, the play was reviewed, but the goal counted, and the Penguins led 3-1. 58 seconds after Cooke’s goal, the Penguins, now on a power play after a questionable penalty call on David Clarkson for roughing, struck yet again. Crosby threw another puck across down low and Evgeni Malkin slapped it home. That was how the second period went, and 4-1 was the score after two periods.
In the third period, the Devils got off to a decent start. They had three of the first four shots in the period, but they only had one shot after that point. At 2:26, Petr Sykora scored on a rebound to cut the Devils’ deficit to 4-2, and they could have made a comeback attempt at that point, but they didn’t. Pittsburgh ended up dominating the third period, outshooting the Devils, 18-4 in the final period. Matt Cooke added another goal (which gave Crosby his third assist of the game) 3:30 after Sykora’s goal to make it 5-2 Pittsburgh, which held up as the final score.
Game notes: The Devils, who struggled early in the season at home, hadn’t lost at Prudential Center since February 26th before Saturday’s 5-2 loss to the Penguins. It was also the first time Pittsburgh won in New Jersey since October 11th, 2010, when the Penguins won, 3-1. Ilya Kovalchuk and Petr Sykora didn’t necessarily play particularly well on Saturday, but both found the score sheet. Kovalchuk now has 10 points in 5 games against the Penguins this season. Andy Greene’s goal was his first goal since March 30th, 2011, when the Devils beat the Islanders, 3-2 on Greene’s game-winner late in the third period. David Clarkson added 16 penalty minutes, to bring his team-leading total to 134 in Saturday’s game. Despite allowing five goals, Martin Brodeur made 39 saves in the game.