By Dave Turner
New Jersey Devils (6-1-3) vs Pittsburgh Penguins (8-3-0) 1:00 pm Prudential Center, Newark, New Jersey
After two big wins earlier in the week, this is another huge test for the Devils. After being blown away by the Penguins in Pittsburgh last weekend, they get a shot at redemption, twice.
With a home-and-home series between the top two teams in the Atlantic Division, there’s a chance either the Penguins could begin to pull away, or the Devils could be in first place by the end of the weekend.
To make it short and sweet, though it’s still early and these are huge games. The Devils had a full team practice yesterday and you can be sure that Pete DeBoer has them focused for these two games, being that the 5-1 loss in Pittsburgh is STILL the Devils only regulation loss of the season.
Here are some questions/thoughts/etc. for tonight’s contest:
1. The Devils NEED to stay out of the penalty box. While the New Jersey penalty kill has been excellent of late, if they take upwards of three or four penalties today, they will most likely lose. The Penguins have been scoring power play goals by the bunches and are currently third in the league with a 29.3% success rate. With the bodies they have on their power play unit, it it imperative to keep out of the sin bin.
2. Can the Devils control play this time? The Penguins are always at their best when they’re playing their sort of game, which is extended time in the zone, cycling the puck and generating shots. The Devils only had 16 shots in the 5-1 loss, but it wasn’t so much because of how good the defense was, but because the Penguins forecheck and offensive scheme made it difficult. The red and black need to turn the game towards their style, with the forecheck and keep the Pens pinned deep in their zone.
3. The second line is on fire, how about the first? The Elias-Henrique-Clarkson line has been tremendous since the trio was formed, but the first line has been a bit underwhelming. Sure, Stefan Matteau has been in for Dainius Zubrus (and will be so again tonight) but Matteau hasn’t be bad at all. Ilya Kovalchuk had a nice shorthanded goal on Thursday, but the team needs him to start scoring at evens. Will today be the day?
4. Adam Larsson has been great. If you watch Adam Larsson’s ice time over the last few games, save for one big turnover on Thursday he has been excellent. His positioning has been correct and he’s using his body well. He has cancelled out shots and he’s just playing smart hockey. The only thing left for him is to get further involved in the offense. I think we’ll begin to see that from him as the young Swede begins to really acclimate himself to the game this season.
Prediction: Devils 3 Penguins 2
I think the Devils will respond well for this game, following their loss at Consol Energy Center last week. They’ve been playing well and if they are able to keep the Pittsburgh offense at bay, I think they’ll find their way to a couple of goals and enough to win.