The Pittsburgh Penguins (7-9-1) host the New Jersey Devils (6-8-2) in a battle of the bottom-feeders tonight. Last year, New Jersey finished atop the Atlantic Division with Pittsburgh a close second. With 20% of this season completed, both teams are struggling to get to 0.500 and are locked in a battle for last place in the division. New Jersey currently holds last place with 14-points, but with a win tonight could pass that title to the Penguins who have just 15-points on the season.
After winning the 2006-07 division title with 107 points, its 4th straight 100+ point season, the Devils are tied for fewest victories in the NHL along with Washington, Buffalo and Edmonton. The Devils will be looking to break out of a 5-game road winless streak against the Penguins who have lost their last 3 at home. Martin Brodeur will be looking to record his 500th NHL victory tonight. Brodeur, last year’s Vezina Trophy winner, has struggled against the Penguins this year, giving up 9-goals on 54 shots in the course of 2-games. In 58 games against the Penguins, Brodeur is 31-20-0 with 4-ties and a 2.72 GAA. New Jersey beat Pittsburgh in the first outing by a score of 5-4 on Oct. 17, but were shutout by a score of 5-0 at home November 5th.
The Penguins will be desparately trying to turn their game around after losing 5 of their last 6 games, including the last 3-consecutive games of divisional play. Saturday’s game against Philadelphia hit a season low as the Penguins gave up 4 power play goals to the Flyers in a 5-2 loss. The Penguins have struggled to find any offense outside of Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin. On Saturday, Crosby extended his point streak to a career-high 16 games by picking up an assist. He leads the team with 25-points (9G, 16A) and trails Henrik Zetterberg of Detroit by 2-points for the league scoring lead. Evgeni Malkin has 23-points (6G, 17A) and is tied for 6th in the league in scoring. “We’ve got to step up in some way,” said Crosby. Regarding Saturday’s performance against the Flyers, he noted “We couldn’t kill our penalties and it hurt us. We can’t get down two and three goals. It makes it easier for a team to play against you.” The Penguins’ best team play of the season came in their last game against the Devils in which they shutout New Jersey 5-0 and received points from all 4-lines. Dany Sabourin was in net for that game and posted his first career shutout. Goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury gave up 5-goals in the October 17th loss and is 4-9-2 and 3.03 GAA in 15 career games against the Devils.
Going head-to-head, the Penguins have the advantage. Pittsburgh has averaged a 0.5 goal more per game at 2.8 goals to the Devils’ 2.3. On the defensive side, the Devils have been a little more stingy giving up 2.9 goals per game versus the Penguins 3.1. The Penguins, however, have the clear advantage in special team play. They have converted 21.1% of their man-advantages while the Devils are 25th in the league on the power play having converted on just 14.1% of their opportunities. Furthermore, the Devils are 0-for-18 in their last 5-games on the power play. The Penguins have kept the puck out of the net on 81.9% of their short-handed situations, while the Devils have managed 73.9%.
NHLPens.com Prediction: Don’t look for another 5-0 shutout of the Devils, but the Penguins will win this game. I am predicting a 4-2 win against the Devils with 2 Penguins goals coming on the power play. Most likely goal scorers for the Penguins include Evgeni Malkin, Maxime Talbot, Ryan Whitney and Mark Recchi. Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin will extend their scoring streaks another game, with Sid picking up at least 2-points in assists.