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.
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.
New Jersey Devils (41-25-5, 87 points) vs. Pittsburgh Penguins (43-21-5, 91 points)
1:00 PM E.T.
TV: MSG Plus, Radio: WFAN 660 AM
Tale of the tape:
This is the fifth of six meetings between two of the top teams in the Eastern Conference. The Devils dropped the first meeting of the season in Pittsburgh on October 22nd, but since then, it’s been all Devils. The Devils beat the Penguins 3-1 on New Year’s Eve, 3-1 in Pittsburgh on January 7th and 5-2 on February 5th. This St. Patrick’s Day special will mark the second time in three years that the Penguins will be in New Jersey as the Devils celebrate retro day. The Devils are just four points behind Pittsburgh in the standings.
This matchup also features a pair of players who might be in the running for the Hart Trophy this season (league MVP). Pittsburgh’s Evgeni Malkin (85 points) and the Devils’ Ilya Kovalchuk (71 points) have both been tremendous for their respective teams this season. Who knows where either team would be without the offensive production of the two Russian superstar forwards.
From 1982 to 1992, the Devils’ colors were red, white and green. From 1992 to present, the Devils did away with the green and changed to black. While they’ve never worn an alternate, third or black jersey regularly, this will be the third straight season that the Devils will bring the old red, white and green back for one day only. Also on this date in 2009, Martin Brodeur set the all-time NHL record for regular season wins by a goaltender, with his 552nd career win, passing Patrick Roy for the honor. Three years later, Brodeur has picked up 99 more wins. Also on March 17th, 2009, Patrik Elias recorded his 702nd career regular season point, which eclipsed John MacLean for most points in Devils’ history. March 17th is a festive day for more reasons than just the official holiday in New Jersey.
The Devils beat the Penguins on the very first Retro Night in 2010, 5-2, to cap off a season sweep of Pittsburgh in 2009-10 (6-0-0).
Where’s the offense?
The Devils have been in the top half of the league in goals per game. In fact, they’ve been in the top ten offensively for much of the season, but their ability to score goals has evaporated of late. After a three-goal third period on Sunday night against Philadelphia, they were shut out in Philly by the Flyers on Tuesday and failed to score a goal in 65 minutes of play against the Colorado Avalanche on Thursday, despite winning 1-0 in the shootout. They played much better offensively on Thursday than they did Tuesday, but scoring droughts this time of year can be worrisome, and the Devils must score goals against Pittsburgh, because with the firepower the Penguins do have, no goals probably won’t be good enough to compete with them.
Despite the recent offensive slump, the Devils do have the lineup and talent to score goals. They have four players who have eclipsed 20 goals this season and seven players with at least 15 goals. It is that balance of scoring that has helped the Devils become one of the top teams in the Eastern Conference this season. They’ve also played strong defensively since the All-Star Break, and Martin Brodeur is 12-6-1 with a .930 save percentage since the break. That is, without a doubt, vintage Brodeur, as he approaches his 40th birthday.
Who to watch for:
The Devil who you’ll want to keep an extra-close eye on in this game is Ilya Kovalchuk. He’s been absolutely phenomenal against the Pittsburgh Penguins this season, as he has been against the Atlantic Division. Kovy has three goals and six assists in four games against Pittsburgh this season. In his career, Kovy has posted 46 points in 40 games against the Penguins. Patrik Elias has also had success against Pittsburgh this season, with a goal and four assists in the four games so far. Zach Parise has two goals and three assists in the season series with Pittsburgh so far.
What’s new with the Pens?
Things have been quiet from Pittsburgh’s camp of late.
Okay, not exactly. They had won nine straight games before their Thursday matchup with the New York Rangers at MSG, and they got two huge additions to their lineup: defenseman Kris Letang, who is generally considered to be one of the best puck-moving defenseman in the NHL as well as their “third line center,” who you may have heard of. His name is Sidney Crosby. He had only played eight games before Thursday due to concussion-like symptoms, but he’s back and at least for now, he’s healthy. He recorded an assist (it was later decided that he should get a second assist, so technically, he had two points at MSG) in Pittsburgh’s 5-2 win over the Rangers. Oh yeah, and Letang? He was a plus-5 at MSG against the Rangers.
So the Penguins have won ten straight hockey games, and they’ve proven that they just might be the best team in the league right now. Winger James Neal is having a career year, with 31 goals and 67 points for the Penguins. Goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury is one of hockey’s best in net, so at this point, are there any teams, at least in the East, that can play with the Penguins? The Devils will try to prove that they can in this game.
Penguins’ projected lineup:
Kunitz – Malkin – Neal
Sullivan – Staal – Dupuis
Cooke – Crosby – Kennedy
Tangradi – Vitale – Adams
Martin – Letang
Orpik – Michalek
Engelland – Niskanen
Devils’ projected lineup:
Parise – Henrique – Kovalchuk
Sykora – Elias – Zubrus
Ponikarovsky – Josefson – Clarkson
Boulton – Carter – Bernier
Greene – Fayne
Volchenkov – Zidlicky
Salvador – Larsson