Who: New Jersey Devils (17-28-5, 39 points, 8th place Metropolitan Division) @ Pittsburgh Penguins (31-13-8, 70 points, 2nd place Metropolitan Division)
When: 7:00 p.m. Eastern
How to Watch: AT&T SportsNet Pittsburgh (ATTSN-PT) locally in the Western PA viewing area, MSG+ for Devils area folks, ESPN+
Opponent Track: The Devils are back in action tonight after an eight day layoff. They last played on Tuesday Feb. 15th, getting smacked 6-3 by Tampa. The game before that 10 days ago, NJ hosted the Pens and fell 4-2 in a Sunday afternoon game. New Jersey has been fading of late, winning only two of their last 10 games and not even getting to OT in any of the losses (2-8-0).
Pens Path Ahead: The Pens have had a nice stretch of inactivity themselves, but that is also coming to an end for a bit. Pittsburgh starts three games in four days today, after tonight they’ll host the Rangers at 3pm on Saturday afternoon, and then make the short trip to Columbus for a 6:00pm Sunday start.
Hidden Stat: Mike Matheson must like playing the Devils. In 22 career games against NJD, Matheson has 16 points (5G+11A), the most he’s recorded against a single NHL team. This season Matheson has three points (2G+1A) in three games against NJD. Since the start of the 2017-18 season only two defenders (John Carlson, Ivan Provorov) have more points from the blueline against the Devils than Matheson’s 15 (h/t Pens PR).
Trivia Question: Which Penguin player leads the team in home power play goals this season?
Season Series: Heading into the final game of the season series, the Penguins hold a 2-1-0 record against the Devils this season. NJ took a 4-2 win back on October 30, in their only other trip to Pittsburgh this season. The Pens have won the last two games, both in NJ, taking a 3-2 regulation win on December 19 at Prudential Center and then the aforementioned 4-2 victory 10 days ago where Mike Matheson, Bryan Rust, Brian Boyle and Jake Guentzel recorded goals.
SBN Counterpart Blog: It’s all about the Devils at All About the Jersey.
—So many goalies, so little success. Far cry from the days from 1995-2010 where Martin Brodeur was usually playing 70-77 (!!) games a season in any given year.
—Perhaps only health is holding Jack Hughes back from a breakout season. He’s at a point-per-game with 30 in 30 when he’s played, but he’s also missed 40% of the season so far (20 games). Hughes is in his third NHL season, and already locked up with an eight-year contract extension ($8.0m cap hit) that kicks in next season and lasts until 2030. It’s a bold statement, but that could even be close to a MacKinnon or Pastrnak-esque type of team value later in the decade if Hughes puts it all together and stays on the ice.
Is there enough for the Devils?
Since one of those classic NHL shocking runs to the Stanley Cup Final out of no where that New Jersey enjoyed in 2012, when this season ends the Devils will have missed the playoffs now in nine of the last 10 seasons. (The one year they did make it, 2017-18, NJ was the lowest seed and quickly bowed out in five games to Tampa). If current results hold, NJ will finish eighth out of eight in the Metropolitan division for the third time in the last four years. That other year, they finished seventh.
And yet, for all the (Dusty Rhodes voice) hard times, daddeh (/Dusty Rhodes voice) that the Devils have endured, their journey through the proverbial desert doesn’t look like it really has an ending point that can be seen from where they stand right now. From All About the Jersey, recently, your reading today is titled: “Is there enough here?”:
If you squint, it seems to be a forward group that could generate strong results, but the Devils are 18th in goal-scoring leaguewide. There’s been a lot of ink spilled on how much the goaltending (and, depending on who you ask, defense) has been holding this team back, but the offense, while better, is generating goals at a rate that is just average or slightly below. Can the Devils expect the kind of improvement from their players at this point to bridge between where they are and being among the better offensive teams in the league? Barring some significant moves to add to what they have, I’m not so sure. Alexander Holtz joining the fray whenever he’s NHL-ready could help, but that is a wait-and-see situation
Putting it all together, I find myself excited for a handful of players in black and red, but as a group, it’s tough to be too confident that a suddenly playoff-bound team is about to emerge. If I had to bet on the results going forward based on who is in the Devils organization, I’d put my dollars on below-average to middling going forward, absent a major change in personnel (and perhaps a major upgrade in coaching), and that’s assuming a rebound to at least serviceable goaltending. I don’t think there is much chance this roster is equipped to outrun some of the worst goaltending in the league if they get a repeat performance in net. So, do the Devils have enough here to put together a true competitor for the East in the near future? I think it’s tough to argue they do at the moment.
A lot of people around the league were excited by NJ’s off-season adds of Dougie Hamilton, Tomas Tatar, Ryan Graves and Jonathan Bernier. All of whom were acquired as free agents or low-cost trade dumps from contenders. But it hasn’t paid off and New Jersey seems as stuck as they have ever been, and in a division with a ton of powerhouses and/or wealthy teams that will spend a boatload every year to compete and most have quite a bit of talent on hand (PIT, NYR, WSH, CAR, NYI and PHI is trying, I guess).
It’s got to be one of the toughest situations to be in for a team like NJ or Columbus to crack a top-three spot in this alignment. Teams rise and fall in the cap world, and outside of like Buffalo no one really ever stays bad forever, but Jersey is in a really tough spot where best case they’re probably shooting for a wild card. Someone has to finish last in the division, and all too often lately it has been the Devils at the mercy of the more powerful clubs.
Wednesday Practice Lines
Yegor Sharangovich - Jack Hughes - Dawson Mercer
Pavel Zacha - Nico Hischier - Jesper Bratt
Andreas Johnsson - Jesper Boqvist - Tomas Tatar
Jimmy Vesey - Michael McLeod - Nathan Bastian
Jonas Siegenthaler - Dougie Hamilton
Ryan Graves / Damon Severson
Ty Smith / P.K. Subban
Goalies: Jon Gillies and Nico Daws
Scratches: Marian Studenic, Christian Jaros, Colton White
COVID Protocol: none
IR: Janne Kuokkanen (wrist), Tyce Thompson, Miles Wood (hip), Mackenzie Blackwood (heel), Jonathan Bernier (hip)
—The Penguins catch the opposite of a break with the apparent return from IR for Dougie Hamilton in this game. Bratt, their leading scorer, was also on IR last week for the last PIT/NJ game. On paper this Devils team is quite a bit stronger up and down the lineup with those two returns.
And now for the Pens..
Wednesday Practice Lines
Jake Guentzel - Sidney Crosby - Bryan Rust
Danton Heinen - Evgeni Malkin - Jeff Carter
Brock McGinn - Evan Rodrigues - Kasperi Kapanen
Zach Aston-Reese - Brian Boyle - Dominik Simon
Brian Dumoulin / Kris Letang
Marcus Pettersson / John Marino
Mike Matheson / Chad Ruhwedel
Goalies: Tristan Jarry (Casey DeSmith)
Scratches: Kasper Bjorkqvist
COVID Protocol: none
IR: Jason Zucker (week-to-week, core surgery), Louis Domingue, Teddy Blueger (week-to-week, broken jaw)
—The Penguins kept their practice lines similar to recent games. Zach Aston-Reese took a maintenance day on Tuesday but returned to the ice yesterday as the team gears up for the weekend.
—The depth has been temporarily shuttered, with the Pens sending down Radim Zohorna, Drew O’Connor and Mark Friedman to Wilkes this week to get some action in some fairly rare mid-week AHL games on Tuesday and last night while the NHL team was inactive. It wouldn’t be surprising to see some of them brought back up in the NHL in time for tonight for depth purposes (especially Friedman or a different AHL defenseman call-up since there are no extra bodies right now).
Milestone and streak watch
- Evgeni Malkin is working on a three-game point streak (1G+3A).
- Sidney Crosby (1,372) is two points behind tying Mike Modano (1,374) for 25th place in all-time NHL scoring.
- Kris Letang had an assist vs Carolina putting him to the 40-assist mark in a season for the sixth time in his career. He became only the third active defensemen in the league to have at least six 40-assist seasons, 24th defensemen in NHL and first in Pens history (h/t Pens PR).
Trivia answer: The answer to most home PPG for the Pens this year? Kinda a trick question because it’s not one of the typical top guns, it’s Evan Rodrigues! ERod got home PPG #7 on Sunday late in the Carolina game.