PITTSBURGH -- If opposing teams are scouting the Pittsburgh Penguins for clues on how to defend against their three elite centers in the Stanley Cup Playoffs -- and no doubt they are -- they certainly are filing up a few computer hard drives.
Coach Dan Bylsma is showing off all kinds of looks -- and multiple line combinations featuring Evgeni Malkin, Sidney Crosby and Jordan Staal -- as the Penguins try to catch the New York Rangers and secure the top spot in the Eastern Conference.
The Penguins' hopes of doing that took a hit when they were blown out 8-4 by the Ottawa Senators with rookie Brad Thiessen in goal Saturday night. It was Pittsburgh's first loss in regulation since Feb. 19 against Buffalo and only its second defeat in 15 games overall, leaving the team three points behind the Rangers.
But playing such a game allowed Bylsma to mix and match his lines, and Crosby -- who scored his first goal since his March 15 return against the Rangers -- wound up playing at least one shift with every forward except Craig Adams.
Crosby has 1 goal and 10 assists in the six games since he resumed playing for the first time since Dec. 5. Crosby is playing mostly on a third line with Matt Cooke and Tyler Kennedy, who have benefitted greatly by playing alongside No. 87. Cooke had a pair of goals Saturday, his third multiple-goal game in the six games he has played with Crosby, and Kennedy has three goals and four assists.
With the Penguins (46-22-6) playing back-to-back games, they did not hold a morning skate Sunday.
The Devils (42-27-6), who lost to Toronto 4-3 in a shootout Friday, held an optional morning skate attended by a majority of the team. The most-watched player on the ice was center Travis Zajac, who has been limited to eight games this season by a sore left Achilles tendon but will play against Pittsburgh. Zajac last played on Jan. 2.
Devils coach Peter DeBoer is shaking up his lines, not just to accommodate Zajac but to try to find some more scoring chances.
New Jersey scored only six goals in its previous five games before scoring three times against Toronto, and has had only one game with as many as four goals in its last eight. Pittsburgh, by contrast, has scored at least four goals all but once in its last seven games, piling up 34 goals during that span.
The new lines find Zajac with Ilya Kovalchuk and Alexei Ponikarovsky, Patrik Elias with Zach Parise and Dainius Zubrus and Adam Henrique with Petr Sykora and David Clarkson.
"I'm not even concerned about goals," DeBoer said. "I think the goals will come. What we want is offensive zone time. We want to create chances. We want to look for some chemistry -- all of those things when, when things are going well, you have in place."
The likely lineups for the sixth and final meeting for the Atlantic Division rivals this season; New Jersey won three of the first five:
Ilya Kovalchuk – Travis Zajac – Alexei Ponikarovsky
Zach Parise – Patrik Elias – Dainius Zubrus
Petr Sykora – Adam Henrique – David Clarkson
Ryan Carter – Jacob Josefson – Steve Bernier
Andy Greene – Mark Fayne
Anton Volchenkov – Marek Zidlicky
Bryce Salvador – Adam Larsson
Brodeur has nine shutouts in 79 career games against Pittsburgh.
Chris Kunitz – Evgeni Malkin – James Neal
Steve Sullivan – Jordan Staal – Pascal Dupuis
Matt Cooke – Sidney Crosby – Tyler Kennedy
Eric Tangradi – Craig Adams – Richard Park
Brooks Orpik – Zbynek Michalek
Kris Letang – Paul Martin
Matt Niskanen – Deryk Engelland
Fleury will be back in net after Thiessen gave up eight goals on 28 shots in Ottawa, his first NHL loss in four decisions.