Who: Pittsburgh Penguins at New Jersey Devils
When: 1:00 p.m. ET; Pregame show at 12:30 p.m. ET
Where: Prudential Center, Newark, NJ
Media: TV – MSG+ (Channel listings); Radio – WFAN (660AM or 101.9FM)
Twitter: @cgriffin415 | @SNYDevils
Forwards Defense Goalie
Matteau-Zajac-Kovalchuk Salvador-Fayne Brodeur
Inactives: Harrold, Tallinder
Scratched: Zubrus (upper body)
Memories: As I wrote about after Thursday’s win, the memories of last weekend’s 5-1 loss to Pittsburgh are very much still in the heads of the Devils players and coaches. Both teams have been red hot since that game with the Pens a little more radiant than the Devils. While Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin are always going to be at the forefront of anything the Pens do, it’s been the side players like James Neal and Chris Kunitz that have given opponents fits over the past 10 days. The Devils have done a solid job for the most part this season in shutting down a team’s primary weapon or weapons, but the Penguins and Rangers are the only teams they’ve faced that offer a multitude of offensive options. Against the Rangers, the Devils got away with some key saves by Marty and were helped by a Rangers power play that couldn’t find a soccer goal, let alone that tiny space of netting between the red pipes. In the last meeting between the Pens and Devils, Kunitz was all over the ice, finishing the game with one goal and two assists, all but one of which involved either Sid or Geno. See, while it’s important the Devils keep the Pens’ top duo at bay, Sid and Geno can just as easily create plays and opportunities for the players around them, which, frankly, is very difficult to play against. Not to mention the fact that this is a “double-points” game against a divisional opponent who has a one-point lead on the Devils in the Atlantic entering play today. So yeah, bit of a big game.
Let ‘er rip?: One of the ways the Devils can respond to the high-powered Pens is by getting their own top guns going. Kovy started the process Thursday, ending his goalless drought with a short-handed score and two assists. Zajac on the other hand, remains in struggle mode. He put a sure-thing rebound off the post Thursday and can’t seem to buy a goal this season. In fact, after scoring in each of the Devils’ first two games, Zajac has just one assist to his credit. Part of this was also due to Kovy’s cold run, but part of it is also teams gunning to shut down the Devils’ top line on a nightly basis, something Zajac has never faced before. As with Kovy, I’m not worried yet. If Kovy gets to scoring in bunches, Zajac will start piling up helpers and once teams focus on Kovy, there’ll be opportunities for Zajac to bury pucks in the back of the net. For the Devils’ sake, with two games coming up against the Penguins, it would be very helpful if that process started today.
Wounded: There will be one important figure from each team missing from today’s game. Dainius Zubrus will miss his second straight game, while Penguins defenseman Kris Letang was left back in Pittsburgh. The Devils were able to cover up for Zubrus against the Lightning, but his responsible, physical two-way game will be missed against a Pittsburgh team that likes its forwards to cycle the puck and generate plays off possession underneath the faceoff dots. Matteau didn’t play the last time these two teams met, so this will be quite a challenge for the youngster, especially when he plays on the top line. The Devils do get a break with the absence of Letang, who is undoubtedly the Pens’ anchor on defense. He plays the most minutes and leads their blue line in goals and points. That could make life a little easier for the Devils both on the penalty kill and when working their forecheck deep in the Pittsburgh zone. The key in this battle of missing players will be which replacement makes the big mistake first and then who capitalizes.
Audience participation: Sooooo… how many people are actually going to be at this game? Although the snow from Nemo has stopped in most places, it dropped as much as three feet in some areas. The roads are bound to be tricky and I’m sure there are quite a few that will spend most of today digging themselves out of their houses and their driveways. I imagine there will be far more people at the game than there would’ve been had the snow carried into this afternoon as earlier predicted, but it’s always hard to tell. This is also a Devils team that tends to be energized by the home crowd, although they, and I, would tell you that in no way should you do anything unsafe in order to get to this game. In fact, if possible, it sounds like the perfect mass transit game if you ask me. Whatever you do, be safe out there.