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.
Start Time: 1:00 PM
TV: NHLN-US, MSG+
Radio: WFAN 600 AM, 101.9 FM
As the state of New Jersey braces for what will probably be the worst snow storm of the year, the New Jersey Devils (6-1-3) are preparing for what could be one of their most important weekends of the shortened season. Saturday afternoon, the Devils will play the first game of a home-and-home series against their Division Rivals, the Pittsburgh Penguins (8-3-0). The Devils enter the game winning their last three, most recently a convincing 4-2 win over the Tampa Bay Lightning. The Penguins have won their past five games, consisting of wins against the Rangers, Devils, Islanders, and the Capitals twice.
New Jersey Devils:
One of the key factors to the Devils three-game winning streak is obviously the team’s strong penalty kill. The Devils have killed off all 16 penalties called against them in those three games, with Kovalchuk even scoring a short-handed goal against the Lightning. While averaging over 5 penalties a game is not where the Devils want to be, being able to kill those penalties is a huge boost of confidence for the team. After giving up 3 power-play goals against the Islanders last week, the Devils really started being more aggressive on their penalty kills, pressuring the offense to make mistakes. On top of that, the Devils goaltending has been superb as of late. Hedberg posted a shutout against the Islanders, and Marty let in three goals in his previous two outings, making some truly stellar stops in both games. After 10 games, the Devils are only averaging 2.1 goals against, tied for 5th in the NHL.
What is there to say about the Penguins that hasn’t already been said? Their offense has been as lethal as ever this season, and the Penguins have one of the best goalie pairs in the NHL. Marc-Andre Fleury (5-2-0, 2.38 GAA, 0.909 Sv%) is looking to erase all memories of his terrible performance during last season’s playoffs, and Tomas Vokoun (3-1-0, 2.08 GAA, 0.927 Sv%) has played spectacularly when filling in for Fleury. The Penguins are currently averaging 3.46 goals per game, tied for second with the Chicago Blackhawks, trailing only the Tampa Bay Lightning (4.20).
What to Watch For
Martin Brodeur will start career game number 1,200 Saturday afternoon, yet another milestone in the massive book Marty has written through his career. With the way Marty has been playing lately, I wouldn’t worry about last week’s performance getting to him. Marty’s made a career out of bouncing back from tough losses, and he’s put on a clinic in his past 2 starts. Look for Marty to continue his strong play and for the defense to continue supporting him. While the Devils penalty-kill has been strong, the Devils will want to stay out of the box more, but don’t expect them to play more conservative because of this. The offense has been clicking as of late, with Clarkson (7) leading the team in goals, and tied with Elias for the team lead in points with 13.
The Penguins offense will be fueled by the usual suspects: Crosby, Malkin, Kunitz, and Neal. Look for them to test Marty early and often, trying to break through and have another high-scoring game against the future Hall-of-Famer. Marc-Andre Fleury is expected to get the start against Marty on Saturday afternoon. While the Penguins are sporting one of the highest-scoring offenses in the league, don’t expect that to intimidate the Devils. After all, they held the #1 team in the league (Tampa Bay) to just two goals on Thursday.
With the Central/North New Jersey area currently being pounded by winter storm Nemo, don’t expect a sell-out crowd at the Prudential Center tomorrow. Who knows, maybe this generation will get a chance to have their own 334 Club. Regardless, expect Devils fans to show up ready for a good game.