Who: New Jersey Devils (35-14-5, 75 points, 2nd place Metropolitan Division) @ Pittsburgh Penguins (27-18-9, 63 points, 5th place Metropolitan Division)
When: 5:30 p.m.
How to Watch: AT&T Sportsnet Pittsburgh for the Pens’ viewing market, MSG Network for the visitors, ESPN+
Opponent Track: The Devils are coming to PPG Paints on the last outing of a four-game road trip. On Thursday, a New Jersey team missing captain and leading scorer Jack Hughes looked flat in a 4-2 loss to the Blues in St. Louis.
Pens Path Ahead: The Penguins finish out this tough Metropolitan stretch with another game against the Islanders, this time at home, on Monday. Then Connor McDavid comes to town when the Oilers arrive at PPG Paints Arena on Thursday.
Season Series: The Devils have had the Penguins’ number in the season series so far. Two quick goals, including a shorty, at the end of the second period on December 30 ended the Penguins hopes of a comeback in a 4-2 loss at PPG Paints. A 1-1 tie lasted most of the game on January 22, but then the Penguins took an overtime penalty and that was all the Devils wrote wrote for a 2-1 loss in New Jersey.
Hidden Stat: The Penguins are 2-6-2 in the second half of back-to-back sets of games so far this season (the last one being the deflating 6-0 loss to the Kings on February 11.)
Getting to know the Devils
SBN partner blog: All About the Jersey
Friday Practice Lines
Tomas Tatar - Nico Hischier - Dawson Mercer
Yegor Sharangovich - Jack Hughes - Jesper Bratt
Ondrej Palat - Erik Haula - Fabian Zetterlund
Miles Wood - Michael Mcleod - Nathan Bastian or Adam Boqvist
Jonas Siegenthaler / Dougie Hamilton
Ryan Graves / Damon Severson
Kevin Bahl / John Marino
Goalies: Mackenzie Blackwood (Vitek Vanecek)
Scratches: Alexander Holtz, Brendan Smith (lower-body injury, practiced on Friday)
IR: Jonathan Bernier
Jack’s back in action
Jack Hughes has been out “week-to-week” with an upper-body injury since leaving practice early on February 8.
The Devils have been moving along at a decent clip without him— they are 2-1-1 since Hughes’ absence— but it’s clear they’ve been missing their 35-goal scorer, especially when their newly shuffled lines have struggled with passes and zone entries.
New Jersey will hope that changes tomorrow, with Hughes projected to return to the lineup and forcing New Jersey’s top three lines in a blender.
“Looks like we’ve got Jack (Hughes) coming back, so it looks like the lines are going to change,” #NJDevils Lindy Ruff— Amanda Stein (@amandacstein) February 17, 2023
Devils defense struggles
Head coach Lindy Ruff did not mince words on the Devils’ last game, when a few defensive-zone turnovers and failed zone clears spelled doom in St. Louis.
“I thought we had a terrible night in our own end. I thought we got beat to pucks… I just thought they were a better team. They skated better. They got to pucks quicker than us. I thought we got outworked.
Some of our puck play led to goals against, turned over pucks. I think when you turnover pucks, especially against their top line a couple times, you put yourself in a lot of trouble.” —Lindy Ruff on the Devils’ play on Thursday
Ruff’s discontent with the Devils’ play, as well as Jack Hughes’ return, explains why the Devils’ forward lines looked so different between Thursday’s loss and Friday’s practice.
- Goaltender Vitek Vanecek has points in his last 12 decisions dating all the way back to December 30 (for a 11-0-1 record, .926 SV% and 2.25 GAA.) Mackenzie Blackwood, who has also been solid since his return from injury in December, got the start on Thursday, so the Penguins likely expect to see Vanecek tonight. That might be a bad sign for a team that struggled to get the puck past him during their last loss to the Devils in New Jersey.
“Vitek has to always be the same. Just play hockey. Not thinking about anything else. I was just trying to help my team.” —Vanecek, referring to himself in the third person, after holding on for a 2-1 OT win over the Penguins on January 22, via NJ.com
If Vanecek earns points in his next two appearances, he will match Martin Brodeur’s franchise record of 14 consecutive points.
And now for the Pens...
Friday Game Lines
Jake Guentzel - Sidney Crosby - Rickard Rakell
Jason Zucker - Geno - Bryan Rust
Brock McGinn - Jeff Carter - Kasperi Kapanen
Drew O’Connor - Teddy Blueger - Josh Archibald
Brian Dumoulin / Kris Letang
Marcus Pettersson / Jeff Petry
P.O. Joseph / Chad Ruhwedel
Goalies: Casey DeSmith or Dustin Tokarski (DeSmith started last night, but during the Penguins’ last back-to-back DeSmith started two in a row)
Scratches: Danton Heinen, Mark Friedman (upper-body injury), Ryan Poehling (injury)
IR: Tristan Jarry, Jan Rutta
- Tristan Jarry traveled with the team to New York, while Rutta participated in Thursday’s practice, but the Penguins haven’t committed to a return timeline to either of them. Rutta skated as an extra defense pair with the perennially-scratched Danton Heinen.
- Ryan Poehling and Mark Friedman were both absent from the Penguins’ last practice before the back-to-back began on Thursday.