The Pittsburgh Penguins (8-10-2) host the New Jersey Devils (8-10-2) Wednesday night in the Atlantic Division’s battle of basement. The Atlantic’s 2-slowest starters this season have identical records of 8-10-2, but the Penguins have the advantage in goals scored to win the points tie for divisional placement. But that won’t help the Penguins if they lose and give up the points tie to the Devils. Who will be the cellar dweller come Thursday morning? Our money is on the Devils to own that distinction.
Much like the Penguins, the Devils have struggled both offensively and defensively. Under 1st-year coach Brent Sutter, New Jersey has doffed the neutral-zone trap in favor of opening up the ice. But the Devils have struggled to find the net, scoring 1/4 fewer goals per game this season than last. To add to their woes, goaltender Martin Brodeur has not been playing to his historical capacity going just 6-10-1 with a 0.894 save percentage and a 2.70 GAA. He has also failed to put up a shutout this season after adding 12 to his career total last season. But Saturday night, the Devils may have turned the corner by beating the red hot Flyers by a whopping 6-2 in Philadelphia. Six different Devils found the back of the net against the Flyers, the most distributed Devils scoring in one game since Feb. 7, 2006. Martin Brodeur made 26 saves in the win to notch his 500th career victory and join Patrick Roy as the only NHL goaltenders to reach that mark. Brodeur needs just 51 more victories to match Roy’s league record of 551 career wins. With the milestone 500th win behind him, the Devils hope that Brodeur will return more to form to help the team dig their way out of their current standing in the Atlantic Division. They also hope the output in Philadelphia will build their offensive confidence as they move forward.
The Penguins are coming off from a disappointing 4-3 overtime loss to the Rangers on Saturday night, a game which they led 2-0 after the 1st period. “We had our chances. It’s just taking advantage of our chances,” said Penguins captain Sidney Crosby, “I hit a post and we had a couple of 2-on-1s (and didn’t score).” Crosby has repeatedly had to find reasons for the team’s extended struggle and winning drought as the team has lost 7 of its last 9 games, despite his personally consistent and stellar play. Crosby had 2-points (1G, 1A) on Saturday to extend his career high point streak to 19 games, and is tied for 2nd in the league in points (30). Sophomore phenom Evgeni Malkin extended his scoring streak to a personal best 13 games, and is tied for the league lead in assists (20) and for 5th in points (27). However, when it comes to scoring distribution, the Penguins have really struggled. Outside of the two young stars, the only Penguins who have been able to find consistent scoring are Petr Sykora and Sergei Gonchar. While the Devils have 7 players with 10+ points, the Penguins have just 4 (Crosby, Malkin, Gonchar, Sykora). A bright spot for the Penguins had been the power play, scoring at least a goal in their first 14 games. But the man-advantage has fizzled of late posting just 4-for-30 in their last 6-games. Marc-Andre Fleury (3.47 GAA) has gotten the call for the last 2-games, but Dany Sabourin may well get the start for this game. Sabourin posted 20 saves in a 5-0 shutout of the Devils on November 5th.
Going head-to-head, the Penguins have the advantage in scoring and special teams, but the Devils have been stingier defensively in 5-on-5 play. Offensively, the Penguins have netted 2.8 goals per game on average, while the Devils have mustered 2.4. Defensively however, the Devils have allowed 2.8 goals per game while the Penguins have struggled and let in 3.1 goals on average. In what could be the determining factor to the game, the Penguins power play (although cool of late) has been effective 21% of the time, while the Devils have only been able to convert on 12.5% of their chances. Similarly, the Penguins have the advantage in killing penalties with an 82.5% effectiveness to the Devils’ 76.7%.
- VIDEO: Click Here for the Penguins’ Post Practice Locker Room Interviews on 11/20/07 with Sidney Crosby, Ryan Whitney, Darryl Sydor, Petr Sykora, Ryan Malone and Brooks Orpik (12:36)
- VIDEO: Click Here for the Penguins’ Post Practice Locker Room Interviews on 11/19/07 with Maxime Talbot and Sidney Crosby (4:21)
NHLPens.com keys to the game: The biggest key to the game will be special teams. The Penguins need to keep their legs moving to draw the Devils into a penalty and enable the Pens’ man-advantage against one of the league’s most penalized teams on the road with one of the league’s least effective penalty killing units. The Penguins need to put a lot of pucks on net and pressure Brodeur early to take away the momentum gained in his 500th win on Saturday. If Brodeur finds his form early, it will be a tough night for the Penguins’ offense. The Pens need to play the game with the same desperation they exhibited in the first period of play against the Rangers, put the puck on net early and often and hope for some lucky bounces. I look for Dany Sabourin to get the call and stand tall against the Devils.
NHLPens.com Prediction: Ever the eternal optimist, I am predicting a Penguins win by a score of 5-3 with 2-goals coming on the power play. Crosby and Malkin will again score with each getting 2-points to keep their streaks alive. The most likely goal scorers are Crosby, Malkin, Hall, Whitney and Talbot.