2/10 Pregame Primer: Devils at Penguins

Michael Miller/Wiki Commons

Michael Miller/Wiki Commons

By Dave Turner

New Jersey Devils (7-1-3) vs Pittsburgh Penguins (8-4-0) 7:30 pm CONSOL Energy Center, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania

And so they meet again, in a rubber match of sorts.

After the Devils evened up the season series at one each, with their 3-1 win yesterday, the two teams square off again tonight. This time, it’s from the CONSOL Energy Center.

This is a big game for both teams, because not only is first place in the Atlantic Division on the line, but both teams have put up a poor effort in each other’s building. What can we expect to see today?

You have an interesting situation for this game, as both teams have won their games against each other in convincing fashion. Game 1, a 5-1 Penguins win played very much into their style, opening up the game in neutral ice and using their speed. Game 2, yesterday’s 3-1 win was a typical Devils-style game, where they frustrated the Penguins getting through the neutral zone and used their forecheck to keep up the pressure.

Here are some questions/thoughts/etc. for tonight’s contest:

1. The backup goaltenders will get the nod tonight. Tomas Vokoun will be in net for the Pens and he’s been very solid so far. He’s 3-1 with a 2.09 goals against average and .927 save percentage in five appearances so far this season. Johan Hedberg has been even more impressive, with a mind-boggling 0.48 goals against average and a .980 save percentage, but he has only started two games so far. Though it’s a game that features two backups, with both playing so well, we could be in for a low-scoring game.

2. Can the Devils top line get it going? Stefan Matteau netted his first goal yesterday, but the his linemates have struggled lately. Sure, Ilya Kovalchuk has a few goals, including his shorthanded tally against the Lightning, but he has yet to score a 5-on-5 goal so far this season. Travis Zajac has also struggled to find the back of the net. The newly re-signed center hasn’t scored in nine games and has only one point over that same span. Plain and simple, this line needs to pick it up.

3. Expect Evgeni Malkin to be better today. The Russian superstar had a brutal game yesterday. He took some bad penalties and even got robbed by Martin Brodeur late in the game. Malkin is a game-breaker and you can certainly make the case that he’s the best all-around player in the game today. Expect him to be better tonight.

4. The New Jersey defensemen continue to shine. The Devils’ defensive-corps have been tremendous of late, killing penalties and clearing bodies out of the middle, but even more impressive is how they continue to get involved in the offense. Andy Greene is playing some of the best hockey of his career and his pass on Matteau’s goal was a moment of beauty. He wound up like he was going to shoot, which pulled the defenseman into his shooting lane and pushed Marc-Andre Fleury over towards his blocker side post. Then he fired a beautiful tape-to-tape pass that led to the goal.

5. Adam Larsson is maturing right before our eyes. If you watch the young Swedish defender shift-by-shift, you’ll realize how well he is playing. He’s been positionally sound and he’s using his body to separate the man from the puck. He’s starting to show signs of becoming a top-flight defender. The offensive game will come, but right now he’s beginning to blossom, which is an excellent sign of things to come.

Prediction: Penguins 3 Devils 2

The Penguins will likely come in with a chip on their shoulder in this one, expect their best effort.

Pittsburgh is a very good and very dangerous team and I expect them to respond today. As Pete DeBoer said in his post game presser yesterday, the Devils have to get “greedy” tonight. After a six point week, they don’t NEED this win, but it would go a long way towards beginning to distance themselves from the pack in the Atlantic Division.

I will say this. If the Devils win today, this would be a HUGE win and would speak volumes as to how good this team is.