NEWARK, NJ - On the heels of a tough loss at Prudential Center on Wednesday against the Ottawa Senators, the Devils have a chance to redeem themselves and claw back into the Eastern Conference playoff race tonight against the Pittsburgh Penguins.
Travis Zajac was asked what the team needs to do in order to get back to their successful ways, which included last Sunday's 2-1 win over the Canucks.
"We have to buy in. We have to be unselfish," Zajac began. "We have to value little things that you think don't make a difference but they do. If they do that, we have as much skill as anyone in this League."
The center added that the team's compete level was key to two points tonight.
"We didn't push back (on Wednesday). We just made it too easy. When we looked at the video yesterday, we didn't win enough battles and didn't play with the puck enough. That was the difference between Vancouver and last game."
As for Zajac's own game, the center has four points through 17 games this season. Devils head coach John Hynes talked about how Zajac has given the team everything he can away from the puck but is looking to ge thim more involved offensively.
"There's a lot to Travis's game that doesn't come into points. When he's playing his best hockey, he's a dual threat. He needs to get to the good ice and get more opportunities, the way that he can score. We'd like to see him be a more threatening player. He wants to do that, too. Our job is to get that out of him."
Hynes noted that Sami Vatanen will remain out with an upper-body injury. He was placed on injured reserve retroactive to the team's game on November 8 in Edmonton. Kevin Rooney is also out due to injury, meaning Jesper Boqvist is in.
Defenseman Colton White was recalled from AHL Binghamton but won't play tonight.
For the lineup itself, Hynes said he hasn't set lines just yet.
The Penguins have injury troubles of their own, with defenseman Kris Letang and captain Sidney Crosby both out. Crosby is out for at least the next six weeks with a core muscle injury.
Hynes was asked about how he might adjust his game plan as a result of those two on the shelf.
"With those two guys in the lineup, they're dynamic players. You realize with those guys out but the one thing you have respect for is they play the same game regardless of who's in the lineup," Hynes stated. "They're deep. They're one of the teams that's proven that if they have someone out of the lineup, they share those minutes around. It doesn't change our preparation aside from power play tendencies and face-off tendencies."
Zajac agreed with his coach.
"They compete, they work hard. They still have Geno (Evgeni Malkin) who can make plays and other guys who are dangerous. It's got to be about our game more than anything," he said. "At the end of the day, if we play well we're winning games."
MILITARY APPRECIATION NIGHT
Tonight is Military Appreciation Night presented by Prudential. Kyle Palmieri met with the media to talk about his involvement with the military.
"I always had a significant interest in the military. And then as I got older and more family members started, joining, it became extra special. And, it was important to me to try and give back. And it started with Squad 21 and the tickets and. I'm getting some, some of them to, to the game and, and spend some time in with a little meet and greet after, but eventually grew into the foundation."
Kyle's foundation is Squad 21. He invites active military service members and veterans an opportunity to attend New Jersey Devils home games. During select home games, Squad 21 invites military personnel and a guest to sit in Kyle's reserved section, along with a t-shirt, and a post-game meet and greet with Kyle.
"For some of them, it's the first time seeing a hockey game in real life. and then you get some avid Devils fans from this area. And, I think it's really special to spend some time and connect with them and show my appreciation. And it's an honor to spend some time with them and meet their families, whether it be taking pictures or signing autographs, but getting to hear some of their stories and how grateful they are just to come and watch us play."
-- Marc Ciampa, NewJerseyDevils.com
DEVILS (5-8-4) vs PENGUINS (10-6-2)
TV: 7:00 p.m. ET; Televised on MSG+
Tonight's game is the first of four meetings between the two teams this season.
Last season, the Devils took three out of four from the Penguins. Travis Zajac led the way with eight points in four games while Damon Severson and Taylor Hall each had five points. Severson played four games and Hall only played two to achieve that total.
Devils team scope:
The Devils came off a five-game road swing in which they won three out of five contests. On Wednesday, they had a 2-1 lead late in the third with the game seemingly in control but a pair of late goals from the Ottawa Senators plus an empty-netter resulted in a 4-2 setback.
Taylor Hall leads the Devils in points with 15 in 17 games while Kyle Palmieri continues to lead in goals with six. Palmieri also leads the Devils in penalty minutes with 23.
Mackenzie Blackwood has a 2.94 goals-against average on the season and .895 save percentage.
If the Devils can win tonight and tomorrow, they'd be only four or five back of the last playoff spot with a game in hand (since Pittsburgh plays Toronto tomorrow night), showing the importance of these games coming up.
Penguins team scope:
The Penguins are without captain Sidney Crosby and will be for the foreseeable future. He got injured against the Chicago Blackhawks this past Saturday and in their only appearance since then, they lost 3-2 in overtime to the New York Rangers.
Pens sit in the second wild card spot with 22 points on the season, 8 more than the Devils.
Crosby was leading the Penguins with 17 points in 17 games. Jake Guentzel is the team's second leading scorer with 14 points and tops on the team in goals with eight.
By the Numbers:
The Devils went 11-13 (84.6%) on the penalty kill, and were 4-13 (30.7%) on the man advantage in four games against the Penguins last season. ... New Jersey is 3-4-1 at Prudential Center, and 8-7-2 overall against Pittsburgh since the 2015-16 season.
Prudential Center and the New Jersey Devils will honor our nation's service members during the team's annual Military Appreciation Night.
The first 9,000 fans will receive a Devils military themed hat courtesy of Prudential Financial, Inc.
The Kyle Palmieri Foundation, founded by New Jersey Devils right wing, Kyle Palmieri, and his wife, Ashlee Casper, gives back to those who put their lives on the line to preserve American freedom. Kyle has strong ties with the military as his sister and brother-in-law are currently serving in the National Guard and U.S. Army. This close connection to the military inspired Kyle to do more to help those who sacrifice the most. Over the past four seasons, Kyle Palmieri has been providing active military service members and veterans an opportunity to attend a Devils regular season home game. During 10 select home games, Palmieri's foundation, Squad 21 invites 21 military personnel and a guest to sit in Kyle's reserved section, along with a t-shirt, and a post-game meet and greet with Kyle.
Devils -Connor Carrick (upper body) is out; Sami Vatanen (upper body) is out; Kevin Rooney is out
Penguins - Justin Almeida (shoulder) is out; Patric Hornqvist (lower body) is questionable; Kris Letang (lower body) is out; Sidney Crosby (core muscle) is out