When: 7:00 p.m. eastern
How to Watch: AT&T Sportsnet in Pittsburgh, MSG+ in the NY/NJ market
Opponent Track: The Devils beat Buffalo 3-2 on Tuesday night to break an 0-2-2 drought. Going back further, the Devils are just 2-7-2 in their last 11 games and being outscored by a total of 39-24 in those last 11 games.
Pens path ahead: It’s a lot of NJ coming up for the Pens. After tonight, the teams meet again for a day game (1PM start) on Saturday in Newark before going back to Pittsburgh to play on Sunday afternoon again at 1PM. Then, mercifully, Pittsburgh gets their first two day break in quite a while on Monday-Tuesday of next week before getting the Sabres for a back-to-back next Wednesday/Thursday (3/24 and 3/25).
Season Series: It took 30 games and a COVID cancellation due to issues with the Devils, but this is the first Pens/NJD game of the season. As mentioned, the teams meet again for a b-2-b matinee this weekend. We’ll then see five PIT/NJD games in the month of April (goody, goody) as the Pens return to Jersey on 4/9 and 4/11. The Devils then come to Pittsburgh for three straight games on 4/20, 4/22 and 4/24.
Recent History: This is the first Pens/Devils game in over a year, you might remember the last time they played was Pittsburgh’s last game of the 2019-20 regular season on March 10th, 2020, just before the shutdowns happened.
And while it feels like the Devils “always” either beat the Penguins or give them a lot of trouble along the way, Pittsburgh is 3-1-0 vs NJD in the last four games. And the Pens are 6-3-0 in the last nine games from the Prudential Center, where the next two games will be.
SBN Team Counterpart: Check out All About the Jersey for the latest news to know about the Devils. They always have a lot of good information and really in-depth stuff about their team. Their game previews are consistently one of my favorite and I think one of the best around the network, besides or own of course, it’s definitely worth checking out to get a take on the opposite perspective.
Player Stats at a Glance
—From doing these stat previews, a rule of thumb I live by is that any team who needs to use a lot of goalies (like four goalies in 26 games for NJ so far this season) is probably not going to be a very good team. That applies here, though NJD is a bit of a special case since they had rampant COVID issues and lack of availability more than performance to explain why so many different netminders have been used in such a short period of time. Still, when this happens, it’s almost never a steady, stable, good team.
—Circle No. 24 on your program (you know, assuming you had one). Ty Smith is another one of those new-age NHL defensemen. He’s young, fresh, not big, skates really well, handles the puck like no other, he’s right out of the mold that we are seeing so much around the league these days. A 20-year old rookie, Smith is a first round draft pick of who else but Ray Shero — the manager who liked to hoard puck moving defensemen more than just about everyone else. Amazingly enough though, Smith was the only defenseman Shero selected in the first round through five years of drafts for the Devils (2015-19).
—Tons of rookies and new faces for New Jersey, who has gotten 20 goals from rookies so far this season. Travis Zajac and P.K. Subban are the only two skaters on the team above the age of 30, and the Devils have used nine skaters who are 22 or younger so far this season. Much like NYR, this is a very, very young team that has a couple of high draft picks starting to matriculate to the NHL level and a very young core around them that they’re trying to see what happens.
Miles Wood - Pavel Zacha - Kyle Palmieri
Andreas Johansson - Jack Hughes - Jesper Bratt
Janne Kuokkanen - Travis Zajac - Yegor Sharangovich
Nikita Gusev - Mikhail Maltsev - Nathan Bastian
Ty Smith / Damon Severson
Dmitry Kulikov / P.K. Subban
Ryan Murray / Sami Vatanen
Possible starting goalie: Mackenzie Blackwood
Scratches: Will Butcher
IR: Nico Hischier
—Hischier, the former number one pick in 2017, has had a rotten season. A leg injury kept him on the shelf until the end of February. Hischier got in the lineup and it took a few games but he warmed up and had three points in two games before suffering another injury getting hit in the face with a slapshot. He recently underwent a nose/sinus surgery and will be out another few weeks.
—Blackwood struggled and his play seemed to lag a bit with lingering effects from contracting the coronavirus in early February, but he has been playing well as of late and is re-finding his form stopping 33/35 shots against Buffalo in the win on Tuesday.
I’d like to buy a vowel, please
I’ve dubbed the Janne Kuokkanen, Travis Zajac, Yegor Sharangovich line after the Wheel of Fortune phrased based on some of those names. Zajac even rhymes with Sajak! But it’s more than attempts at comedy, these three have been hot as of late, especially the wingers, who you might not have heard of. The trio has combined for 16 points (6G+10A) in the last five games.
And they will be the ones getting the key matchup to play against the Crosby line. From devils.com:
Zajac’s line, consisting of the 35-year-old veteran and his two 22-year-old rookies Janne Kuokkanen and Yegor Sharangovich, is expected to get the bulk of the workload against Crosby, Jake Guentzel and Bryan Rust.
Being at home for the next two games, the Devils will get the final line change. Devils head coach Lindy Ruff expects to get his matchup “80 percent of the time.”
The challenge is obvious. Crosby is a generational talent and one of the greatest to ever play the game. He’s a three-time Stanley Cup champion, two-time playoff MVP, two-time NHL MVP, two-time NHL scoring champion and two-time NHL goal-scoring champion.
But it’s a challenge that is nothing new for Zajac, who has gone head-to-head against Crosby for over a decade now. And it’s a matchup that Ruff desires.
“(There is some comfort) knowing that Travis is there and that Travis has played against (Crosby) a lot (in his career),” Ruff noted, “but we still know that he’s a good enough player to create some chances on his own. He’s one of the strongest players from the top of the circle down in the sense of hanging onto pucks and being able to make plays and score in-tight goals.”
It will be interesting to see how this line does against Crosby. It also will free up the Zacha and Jack Hughes line to play lesser competition.
And now for the Pens..
Jake Guentzel - Sidney Crosby - Bryan Rust
Evan Rodrigues - Evgeni Malkin? - Kasperi Kapanen
Zach Aston-Reese - Mark Jankowski - Brandon Tanev
Colton Sceviour - ? - Anthony Angello
Brian Dumoulin / Kris Letang
Mike Matheson / Cody Ceci
Marcus Pettersson / Chad Ruhwedel
Possible starting goalie: Tristan Jarry
Scratches: Sam Lafferty, Juuso Riikola, John Marino, Teddy Blueger
IR: Jason Zucker, Mark Friedman, Jared McCann
Taxi Squad: Yannick Weber, Frederick Gaudreau, Maxime Lagace
—The Pens were traveling to Jersey yesterday and did not practice. It remains unknown if Malkin can play, but I’m leaving him in because it’s too depressing to consider the situation otherwise.
—Ideally for Pittsburgh McCann and Marino will be back at some point in the very near future as well.
Sid without Geno
It’s kind of troubling that the Penguins PR gave out these nuggets yesterday, but here’s some information about how Crosby does without Malkin available:
Evgeni Malkin’s season-long eight-game point streak came to an end on Tuesday against the Bruins when he left the game early after getting injured in the first period. If Malkin is unable to play [today], the Penguins will turn to captain Sidney Crosby, who has historically produced with Malkin out of the lineup:
Situation GP G A PTS. PTS/GP
Without Malkin 142 61 112 173 1.22
Last season, Crosby recorded six goals, 12 assists and 18 points in 12 games without Malkin in the lineup.
Also, no active player has more points against New Jersey than Crosby with 72. The broadcast on Tuesday had a note that Sid is also the leading active scorer against Boston.
Out of curiosity I went and looked it up, here are all the teams Crosby is the current active leading scorer against, or about to be:
Buffalo(Spezza currently has 72 points, Crosby 65; Spezza has played 22 more games, lol)
- New Jersey
- NY Islanders
- NY Rangers