PITTSBURGH— Pittsburgh Penguins goalie Marc-Andre Fleury is only 27, yet he will play in his 400th career game when he opposes the New Jersey Devils and longtime idol Martin Brodeur at Consol Energy Center on Saturday night.
Brodeur, who respects what Fleury has done in a career that already is a lengthy one yet doesn’t appear to be close to being over, believes Fleury is reaching a major milestone.
“Won’t he get a leather jacket from the NHLPA?” Brodeur said following Saturday’s morning skate.
Fleury, who was in net for the Penguins’ third consecutive loss Friday, a 3-1 defeat to the first-place New York Rangers, probably would take a victory over Brodeur rather than a commemorative piece of clothing.
“I think he definitely is aware of who the other goaltender is when it’s Martin Brodeur,” Penguins coach Dan Bylsma said. “He definitely gets a little charged up about playing against him.”
There are additional reasons, of course, for Fleury to want to play well. The Penguins haven’t lost four consecutive games since they were 0-2-2 from Feb. 20-26, and they haven’t dropped four straight in regulation since a five-game slide from Dec. 27, 2009-Jan. 3, 2010.
There’s also this: If the Devils (22-16-2) beat the Penguins (21-1-4-4) for the second Saturday in a row – they won 3-1 at Prudential Center on New Year’s Eve – they will move past Pittsburgh and into third place in the Atlantic Division standings.
Only a month ago, on Dec. 8, the Penguins led the overall Eastern Conference standings, while the Devils weren’t n the top eight. Since then, New Jersey is 9-4-1 while Pittsburgh is 5-6.
The Devils are 0-3-1 in their last four trips to Pittsburgh and haven’t won there since Dec. 21, 2009. Pittsburgh took all three home games in the season series a year ago.
New Jersey forward Travis Zajac (Achilles’ tendon) and defenseman Anton Volchenkov (lower-body injury) did not make the trip to Pittsburgh. Volchenkov was placed on the injured reserve list to open up a roster spot for forward Nick Palmieri, who had 4 goals and 3 assists in 23 games earlier this season.
Brodeur, 3-1-1 in his last five starts, will be back in net after Johan Hedberg made 22 saves in beating Florida 5-2 on Friday night. Ilya Kovalchuk, who had two goals against the Panthers, scored on a penalty shot against Pittsburgh last weekend.
This will be the sixth set of back-to-back games for the Penguins and the ninth for the Devils. Pittsburgh is 6-4-1 overall in back-to-back games and 3-1-1 in the second half. New Jersey is 9-7-1 in back-to-back games and 5-3 in second games.
Both teams held optional practices at Consol Energy Center on Saturday, and here’s how they could line up Saturday night will feature the third of six meetings this season. They split the first two games. Pittsburgh will be without center Jordan Staal, who sustained an apparent left knee injury during a 3-1 loss to the Rangers on Friday night. Forward Arron Asham is expected to sit out again with a knee injury that occurred in New Jersey.
Zach Parise – Adam Henrique – Ilya Kovalchuk
Petr Sykora – Patrik Elias – Dainius Zubrus
Tim Sestito – Steven Zalewski – David Clarkson
Eric Boulton – Ryan Carter – Cam Janssen
Bryce Salvador – Adam Larsson
Mark Fayne – Henrik Tallinder
Kurtis Foster – Matt Taormina
Brodeur is 43-25-5 with nine career shutouts against the Penguins. Hedberg will be the backup.
Chris Kunitz – Evgeni Malkin – James Neal
Steve Sullivan – Richard Park – Tyler Kennedy
Matt Cooke – Pascal Dupuis – Craig Adams
Steve MacIntyre – Joe Vitale – Craig McDonald
Brooks Orpik – Matt Niskanen
Paul Martin – Zbynek Michalek
Ben Lovejoy – Deryk Engelland
Fleury remains tied for second in the League with 19 wins. Backup Brent Johnson is expected to play next in one of the back-to-back games against Ottawa on Tuesday and at Washington on Wednesday.