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Penguins/New Jersey Devils Game Preview

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Well, here goes nothing. Everything you need to know for tonight’s Pens and Devils game

NHL: Pittsburgh Penguins at New Jersey Devils Ed Mulholland-USA TODAY Sports

Basics

Who: Pittsburgh Penguins (43-28-6) @ New Jersey Devils (40-28-8)

When: 7:00 PM ET

SB Nation Friends: All About the Jersey

How to Watch: Local TV (AT&T Sports, MSG)

Season history: It hasn’t been pretty with the Pens just 0-2-1 so far against the Devils. The team just met last Friday 3/23 in Pittsburgh with Taylor Hall scoring in OT to give NJ a 4-3 win....Back on February 27th NJ won in regulation in Pittsburgh by the score of 3-2.....The first meeting of the season was on Feb 3rd in NJ and it was a 3-1 NJD win.

Recent form: The Pens lost a very disappointing game 5-2 on Tuesday night in Detroit. In their last game (also on Tuesday) Jersey got 3rd period goals from Kyle Palmieri and Stefan Noesen to turn from losing 3-2 into a 4-3 win against Carolina.

The road ahead: The Pens return from the road and look to weekend home games against Montreal and Washington on Saturday and Sunday, respectively.

First, the good guys

It’s been all quiet in Penguins land with a cancelled practice yesterday as the team looks to regroup for a very important game tonight. All eyes will be on any update on the status of center Derick Brassard who left in the middle of the DET game with an unknown and little described “lower body injury”. If Brassard is out of the lineup it’s likely that Riley Sheahan will move back to the 3rd line with Phil Kessel and then some sort of scramble will happen with the 4th line.

Some season milestones in sight:

  • Sidney Crosby is 3 goals shy of the 30-goal mark, which would be his 9th career 30 goal season
  • Carl Hagelin is 1 goal away from hitting double digits
  • Kris Letang is 1 assist from 40 helpers
  • Sheahan and Patric Hornqvist (both 18) as well as Hagelin and Justin Schultz (each with 19) are nearing the 20 assist mark on their respective season
  • Jake Guentzel is 3 points shy of a 50 point season...Bryan Rust is 2 points away from 40

Hardware watch:

  • Evgeni Malkin (42 goals) is three shootypucks behind Washington’s Alex Ovechkin in the race for the Rocket Richard trophy. Winnipeg’s Patrick Laine is also in the hunt with 43 goals.
  • Edmonton’s Connor McDavid (102 points) is pulling away from the pack for the Art Ross trophy. Malkin (93) is tied for 3rd place currently in scoring with Tampa’s Nikita Kucherov (96) in 2nd.
  • Phil Kessel (85) is 9th in the league in points. Crosby (83) is currently in 11th.

—The goalie for tonight remains unknown but should probably be Matt Murray again as the Pens ramp up for the playoffs. For what it’s worth, Murray has only played in 1 of the PIT/NJ games this season (that being the 4-3 OTL last Friday).

—The Penguins also announced this morning condolences on the passing of general manager Jim Rutherford’s mother, Dorothea, at age 89 and we obviously echo those.

Opposition Focus

The Devils are in a place not many expected with 5-7 games left in the season this year, in the playoffs!

They obviously could fall behind the Florida Panthers down the stretch, but teams like Columbus, Philadelphia and (gulp) Pittsburgh aren’t totally out of the sights of the Devils. With only a handful of games left, they have got to be one of the biggest surprises in the league this side of Vegas anyways.

How have they done it? Well, some opportunism. As you can see above NJD is totally square with 225 goals for and 225 goals against. They shoot 31.5 shots/game and allowed 32.1 so they’re not on the plus side of possession.

They also don’t really have any one line to key in on. Obviously Hall is an MVP candidate and one of the best offensive players in the league, he’s the #1 guy you need to stop as an NJD opponent. But after Hall’s 85 points there’s a big drop off to the second leading scorer in #1 overall pick in 2017 Nico Hischier.

But that doesn’t mean the rest of the team are impotent, NJ has 10 players with 10+ goals on the season (and another in Damon Severson with nine). The Pens, for instance only have eight double-digit goal scorers. And those 10 NJ scorers doesn’t include Marcus Johansson (still on the shelf from a January concussion) and trade deadline pickups Michael Grabner and Patrick Maroon.

In short, other than Hall they might not have any front-line players but they definitely have 2-3-4 lines that can opportunistically pop up on any given night and score a goal here and there and help them win.

Sports Club Stats has them at 75% to make the playoffs.

Expected lines

Taylor Hall - Nico Hischier - Jesper Bratt

Miles Wood - Pavel Zacha - Kyle Palmieri

Blake Coleman - Travis Zajac - Stefan Noesen

Michael Grabner - Brian Boyle - Brian Gibbons

Andy Greene / Sami Vatanen

John Moore / Damon Severson

Will Butcher / Mirco Mueller

— Maroon missed Tuesday’s game with a lower body injury, status unclear for tonight. Seems like there could be a possibility he plays against the Pens.

—Johansson is listed as the only other injury at the moment.

—Interestingly, one under-reported story around the league right now is how Keith Kinkaid has basically taken the starting job away from mainstay Cory Schneider. Schneider has had injury issues this season, but since 1/1/2018 he is 0-8-1 with a 3.94 GAA and .867 save %. Oof! Kinkaid has started a whopping 25 games since 1/1 and his stats 17-7-1, 2.62 GAA and .918 save% are much, much better.

—In the past 3 weeks, Schneider has only played two games (losing both). He was pulled in his last start on 3/20 against San Jose after giving up 4 goals on 14 shots. So based on that (and NJ winning on Tuesday), I’d expect we will see Kinkaid in net as NJ plays a critical game for their playoff hopes

Final Word

The Devils win if...they continue to frustrate the Penguins with their speed. Also, beware the 2nd period. NJ’s goals for by period this season are 64 goals scored in 1st periods of games, 89 in the 2nd and 65 in the 3rd...This is bad because the Pens worst period is the 2nd, they allow 73-94-65 goals by period. If the Devils keep it close in the first, adjust at intermission and then score in the 2nd, they’ll likely win. (Note: NJD out-scored the Pens 3-0 in the 2nd period last week in Pittsburgh)

The Penguins win if...well for starters, they need to remember to show up. No, seriously, who knows what Penguins team we are going to see. When they are on their game and interested in committing to play NHL caliber hockey, they’re obviously a championship level team. When they don’t, they lose to bad teams like Detroit, NYI and NYR. Hopefully NJ being in a “playoff mode” of desperation will awake the Pens into realizing that they should maybe try to match that level of effort.