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Devils return home to face shorthanded Penguins

by Dan Rosen /
PENGUINS (29-14-4) at DEVILS (13-29-3)


Last 10 --
Pittsburgh 5-3-2; New Jersey 4-5-1

Season series --
Third of six meetings between the clubs this season. Pittsburgh has won the previous two, 3-1 on Oct. 11 in New Jersey and 2-1 on Dec. 6 in Pittsburgh.

Big Story -- Sidney Crosby will miss his seventh straight game courtesy of a concussion, but the Penguins will be shorthanded even further Thursday because Evgeni Malkin won't play due to an undisclosed injury. He was being evaluated on Wednesday, but coach Dan Bylsma said Malkin is not making the trip to New Jersey.

Team Scope:

Penguins -- The injury bug is biting the Penguins, but they've won three in a row anyway. They've played five games without Malkin this season and have played the last six without Crosby. Thursday night they're going to play their first game of the season without either All-Star center. Jordan Staal has stepped up in Crosby's absence with 6 points and a goal in each of the last three games. Chris Kunitz is also filling up the stat sheet as he, too, has a goal in each of the last three games. But while Staal becomes uber-important with Crosby and Malkin out of the lineup, there are other guys that must step up now to fill the hole.

"It's going to be power-play minutes and a center position. It's going to be a bit of a challenge," Bylsma told reporters Wednesday in Pittsburgh. "Mark Letestu is going to have to play a bigger role. Chris Conner and lots of guys are going to have to play more minutes to fill the void of the 20 minutes and the position that Geno plays for us."

Devils -- Is it crazy to think the Devils are finally coming around and (gasp!) have turned into a dangerous opponent? Not when you consider the fact that they've scored 18 goals over the last four games. Not when you consider the fact that they've won three of those four games. Not when you consider the fact that after more than a half-season of trying they might finally be developing some chemistry with their lines. For instance, Travis Zajac and Ilya Kovalchuk have been playing well together on the top line. This all doesn't make the Devils a playoff contender, but it does make them a scary opponent, especially for a team that will be playing without its two best players.

"I think the last few games have felt the best since we've been together," Zajac told The Record about his developing chemistry with Kovalchuk. "I feel like we've gotten a lot more scoring chances the last few games. He's playing well right now at both ends of the ice and that makes a big difference. I think we have the puck a lot more, just because we're getting out of our end quicker and he's able to make more plays and have the puck more. So, it definitely felt at least like that during games. We've been able to make plays and have some speed coming up the ice."

Who's Hot -- Staal and Kunitz have been hot for the Penguins, but Tyler Kennedy also has points in each of the last three games, including a pair of assists in Tuesday's 4-1 win over Detroit. … Devils rookie Mattias Tedenby is coming off a 2-point game Monday at the Islanders after being a healthy scratch for the previous six games. All-Star forward Patrik Elias has 8 points in his last eight games and Kovalchuk has 3 goals and 2 assists in the last four games.

Injury Report --
Crosby and Malkin headline the injured Penguins. Heck, they headline the injured players in the NHL. … The Devils' injury report hasn't changed either with Zach Parise, Bryce Salvador and Matt Taormina all on injured reserve.

Stat Pack -- The Penguins are 5-0 this season when Malkin doesn't play and 3-2-1 without Crosby. Thursday will be their first game without either player in the lineup. … The Devils scored only 12 goals during Martin Brodeur's run of nine consecutive starts from Dec. 10-29. They've got 18 goals over his last four starts.

Puck Drop --
"Give me five goals every game, we'll win a lot," Brodeur joked to reporters Tuesday. "Trust me."

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