Who: New Jesey Devils (3-2-0, 6 points) @ Pittsburgh Penguins (3-2-2, 8 points)
When: 7:00 p.m. eastern
How to Watch: AT&T Sportsnet locally in Pittsburgh, MSG+ in the greater NY/NJ area, ESPN+
Opponent Track: If you think the Pens haven’t played a lot to open the season, the Devils come into tonight with a league-low five games and having only played once this week (a 5-3 loss to Calgary on Tuesday). NJ has gotten off to a good start with three wins, but they’ve come against either struggling opponents (CHI, SEA) or one considered not too good (BUF). Jersey also only has one regulation win, which means they easily could have let a couple points slip away, too. The Devils have also lost by multiple goals to the best two teams they’ve played (WSH, CGY), and have not yet played a single game on the road, until tonight anyways.
Pens path ahead: The Pens can use more days to elapse to let names like Rust, Letang, Carter and Crosby get back to full strength. And they get a little break now, with four days off after tonight. Thursday is the next game, against the Flyers, and then next Saturday (Nov 6) the Pens see the Minnesota Wild come to town in what will (finally) be the last home game of this season-long eight game stretch that started back on 10/16.
Season Series: The Pens and Devils have a little home-and-home action up next on December 19 (@NJD) and then back in Pittsburgh on December 21. That will be a nice reminder of the “baseball style” series from last season for playing the same opponent a few times in a row. After that, the Pens go back to Newark on Feb 24 and that will be it, as division opponents play each other just four times in 82 games this season.
Random fact: Pittsburgh has been averaging 34.7 shots on goal per game so far this season, the fourth-highest total in the NHL.
SBN Team Counterpart: Pull up on All About the Jersey for the latest news to know about the Devils.
—2020 first round pick Dawson Mercer celebrated his 20th birthday earlier this week. He celebrated his last days as a teenager by making his NHL debut and starting his career off with four points in five games. Mercer arrived to the NHL on a somewhat unexpected early timeline, but one the Devils were happy to accommodate as the youngster played his way onto the team with a wonderful training camp.
—Pavel Zacha has had a bit of an up-and-down “what do we have here” type of career from being a former high first round pick who, arguably got elevated to the NHL a little too quickly for his own development’s sake. At 24, this is already Zacha’s sixth full season in the NHL. He only had 54 goals in the first 316 games, but with four goals in five this season is perhaps growing more comfortable and finally finding footing in the league.
—The Jack Hughes star turn, unfortunately, got put on the back-burner for a while. The former number one pick started the year off en fuego and was looking like an ascending elite player in now his third season, but suffered a shoulder dislocation. Supposedly it’s not believed to be too bad, but it will be five more weeks until he is re-evaluated and being without a budding star is always a bummer.
—Scott Wedgewood is one of the lowest performing goalies currently in the NHL and has been poor again this year. The goalie situation in general is down in NJ when they have seen Wedgewood and Nico Daws (who?...exactly) play in four combined games through five as Mackenzie Blackwood looks to eventually join Jonathan Bernier as the goalie options.
—P.K. Subban looks to be a shell of himself now, recording no points so far in the season. He’s also become a very dangerous and reckless player, basically openly slew-footing opponents this year, having already taken down Ryan Reaves in the preseason and Milan Lucic last game. Subban was fined the puny maximum of $5,000 for the latter, and appears to be getting on the NHL’s radar finally for these dirty incidents.
Thursday Practice Lines
Pavel Zacha - Nico Hischier - Tomas Tatar
Yegor Sharangovich - Michael McLeod - Jimmy Vesey
Andreas Johnsson - Dawson Mercer - Jesper Bratt
Marian Studenic - Frederick Gauthier - Janne Kuokkanen
Ryan Graves / Dougie Hamilton
Jonas Siegenthaler / P.K. Subban
Ty Smith / Damon Severson
Probable Starting Goalie: Jonathan Bernier
Scratches: Mason Geertsen, Christian Jaros
IR: Jack Hughes, Mackenzie Blackwood, Miles Wood
Low-key player profile
Pensburgh game preview readers from last year may remember this space’s warm spot for Sharangovich and Kuokkanen, so we’ll widen the profile past them a bit for this year.
Damon Severson is another player who has hung around for a while, as a former Devils’ second round pick in 2012 with now 490 career NHL games under his belt. At age 27 now, he’s a solid NHL defender with about ideal size (6’2, 210), skating ability and offensive instincts to jump up and support the play.
Severson has done well against the Pens, in 31 career games against Pittsburgh he’s got 2G+13A. Those 13 assists are the most he’s recorded against a single NHL opponent, and the 15 points ties Philly for the team he’s scored the most against.
Severson’s gotten some support with the team beefing up and grabbing Hamilton and Graves this off-season, which should only help Severson more to not have to play as critical of a role for the team and be insulated with more help than he’s had in the past.
And now for the Pens..
Jake Guentzel - Sidney Crosby - Evan Rodrigues
Jason Zucker - Jeff Carter - Kasperi Kapanen
Zach Aston-Reese - Teddy Blueger - Brock McGinn
Drew O’Connor - Brian Boyle - Danton Heinen
Brian Dumoulin / John Marino
Mike Matheson / Chad Ruhwedel
Marcus Pettersson / Mark Friedman or Juuso Riikola
Probable Starting Goalie: Tristan Jarry
Scratches: Sam Lafferty (healthy), Dominik Simon (healthy)
COVID non-roster list: Kris Letang
IR: Evgeni Malkin (knee), Bryan Rust (week-to-week injury)
—Is it really happening this time? Carter and Crosby are both “game-time decisions” officially for this game, and it’s not much of a decision to make barring any last minute bumps in the road.
—Fare thee well, Kasper Bjorkqvkist, who is back to Wilkes with no NHL games played as the forwards return to a better spot health wise.
—If practice lines hold it will be O’Connor staying in the lineup over Simon and Lafferty. That’s a nice reward for a good start and encouraging move by Mike Sullivan to play a younger player with more upside over older options.
—The tease of Juuso Riikola continues, with the Finn practicing on the second power play unit yesterday and taking some line rushes with Marcus Pettersson. One gets the sense Sullivan isn’t exactly thrilled with Mark Friedman as an every game player right now (and Friedman has played 6 of the team’s 7 games so far due to injuries/COViD to others). It might also be worth pointing out Friedman was on ice for two of Calgary’s four goals last game. But will Sullivan really be looking to go two left shots on his third pair? Practice deployment suggests Sullivan is considering it.
—What would be the most fitting “Riikola and the Pens” outcome for this saga: Riikola gets in tonight, plays decently well but is a healthy scratch next game for unknown and murky coaching reasons? Or Riikola gets hurt on his third shift and is left with a week-to-week injury?
Time for Jake to shake..off early season doldrums
One player who should be smilin’ like the proverbial butcher’s dog today is Jake Guentzel if his center is back. As it has been, Guentzel has done a lot of damage over the years against the Devils. From the Pens’ PR department:
Jake Guentzel enters tonight’s game riding a nine-game point streak versus the New Jersey Devils (6G-9A), which doubles as his longest active point streak versus any one team:
Team Point Streak G A PTS
New Jersey 9 Games 6 9 15
Vancouver 8 Games 9 5 14
Florida 5 Games 3 4 7
Winnipeg 4 Games 2 3 5
Eight Teams 3 Games N/A N/A N/A
Throughout his career, he has 25 points (10G-15A) in 21 games against the Devils. His 10 goals, 15 assists and 25 points are all his highest totals versus any one team.
Guentzel was pretty harsh on himself with comments after last game about playing better and producing more. The forward scored a goal in his first game of the season but hasn’t gotten one since. Guentzel has recorded three assists in the last five games, perhaps a new center and seeing the Devils will be just what the doctor ordered to get No. 59 on track.