PENGUINS (43-21-5) at DEVILS (41-25-5)
TV: ROOT (HD), MSG-PLUS
Last 10: Pittsburgh 10-0-0; New Jersey 6-3-1
Season Series: The Devils have won the last three meetings in regulation by a combined 11-4. Pittsburgh won the first game between the teams, 4-1, on Oct. 22. The Penguins have lost four straight in Newark.
Big Story: Sidney Crosby has made his return to the Penguins' lineup after a three-and-a-half-month absence, and wouldn't you know he didn't upset the apple cart. Pittsburgh won its 10th straight game Thursday and Crosby contributed to the 5-2 victory over the Rangers with an assist and a plus-3 rating in exactly 16 minutes of ice time. Crosby's, and really the Penguins', next test is back-to-back games against division rivals. It starts Saturday in Newark, where the Devils beat Colorado 1-0 in a shootout on Thursday.
Penguins: The Penguins have won 10 in a row and have climbed to within four points of the Rangers for first place in the Atlantic Division and the Eastern Conference. With Crosby and Kris Letang returning to the lineup Thursday, the Penguins are also now finally healthy.
"I don't think anybody wants to talk about it too much," Crosby said about the Penguins' finally having their real lineup together. "We just kind of want to go with it, but it's really awesome to have all the guys back together. Usually you're seeing one or two skating extra or doing rehab, but to see everyone come together and get a big win (Thursday night), it's obviously a lot of fun."
Crosby was the focal point Thursday night, but Letang returned after missing five games and was remarkably a plus-5 with an assist. Marc-Andre Fleury also picked up his ninth straight win and 38th of the season.
Devils: Ilya Kovalchuk and Zach Parise scored in the shootout Thursday night and they were the only "goals" the Devils got. It was enough to beat the Avalanche, who never put a puck behind Martin Brodeur. The Devils veteran goalie made 28 saves in 65 minutes and then two more in the shootout for his 118th career shutout.
The Devils kept pace with the Flyers, but remain two points behind them in sixth place. They are four points behind the fourth-place Penguins. New Jersey is 11-3 in the shootout this season and Kovalchuk has scored a NHL single-season record seven shootout winners.
"I never think before I go … I take what the goalie gives me and try to beat him," Kovalchuk said. "The shootout is an important thing in hockey now and those 11 extra points make a difference."
The Devils, though, haven't scored a regulation or overtime goal in each of the last two games.
"Our next game is against Pittsburgh," Kovalchuk said. "We'll have to score."
Who's Hot: Evgeni Malkin stayed hot with a goal Thursday night, giving him 14 points during the Penguins' 10-game winning streak. Matt Cooke had his second two-goal game in the last month, but Jordan Staal's point-scoring streak was snapped at eight games.
Injury Report: The Devils are still without Travis Zajac (Achilles) and Henrik Tallinder (blood clot). The Penguins are healthy.
Stat Pack: The last time the Penguins beat the Devils at Prudential Center was Oct. 11, 2010. The Devils dressed only 15 skaters that afternoon due to salary cap constraints. They had 18 skaters on the roster, but Anton Volchenkov and Brian Rolston were hurt and Pierre-Luc Letourneau-Leblond was suspended.
Puck Drop: Penguins coach Dan Bylsma is one happy guy these days. He finally has a healthy lineup, and Thursday night gave him a glimpse of all the options now at his disposal.
"They're trying to match up against Evgeni Malkin's line, and we have Jordan Staal left on our bench and Sidney Crosby on our bench," Bylsma said Thursday night to describe the Rangers' approach. "It's certainly the start of seeing a healthy team. There's a lot you can see that would be tough to play against. If you could get those guys rolling and going, that'd be good for us."