PENGUINS (10-6-0) at DEVILS (9-6-1)
TV: ROOT, MSG+
NEWARK, N.J. -- The surprising New Jersey Devils get an opportunity to move past the Pittsburgh Penguins in the Metropolitan Division with a victory against their divisional foe on Saturday at Prudential Center.
As if the Devils needed any more motivation than having an opportunity to face the Penguins, left wing Patrik Elias joined the team for the morning skate. It marked the first time this season that Elias skated with his teammates. The 39-year-old is recovering from a right knee injury that has sidelined him all season.
Elias said he will join the team for its three-game road trip against Western Conference teams next week but does not know when he will be strong enough for game action.
The Devils, who defeated the defending Stanley Cup champion Chicago Blackhawks for the second time in seven days on Thursday, have won nine of the past 12 games (9-3-1) and three of the past four on home ice.
Despite the fact the Devils were given little shot to challenge for a spot in the Stanley Cup Playoffs this season, they are doing just that under first-year coach John Hynes. New Jersey trails Pittsburgh by one point for fourth place, and the idle New York Islanders by two points for third in the Metropolitan Division; the Devils will have played one less game than the Islanders after Saturday.
"I guess it's never too early to kind of be fighting for position, but we're not trying to watch the standings in November," Devils goaltender Cory Schneider said. "We understand that you have to kind of gain some ground and establish yourself in the first part of the season because we've seen how hard it is for teams to come back once you're in a hole. I think right now we're not looking at where we're at though; we're just more concerned about getting two points against a divisional opponent."
The game also will mark the first time Devils general manager Ray Shero will see his team play against his former club. Shero was Pittsburgh's general manager from 2006-14 before being fired on May 16, 2014. He was hired by the Devils on May 4, 2015.
Additionally, Hynes spent six seasons with the Penguins' organization from 2009-15, including the past five as coach of Wilkes-Barre/Scranton in the American Hockey League.
"Coming into the year, the players were just getting to know us as coaches and we were getting to know them as players and it was just trying to see if we could get better every day, every week," Hynes said. "How we're doing in the standings really isn't our focus. We just have to continue to build how we're playing, what our team identity is and team culture. If we continue to do that hopefully good results will continue to follow."
The Penguins took the morning off the ice after a 2-1 loss against the Columbus Blue Jackets on Friday. The Penguins finished 0-for-6 and generated five shots on the power play against the Blue Jackets.
"I think (the power play) is just execution," Penguins captain Sidney Crosby said after the game. "We're not executing very well. I think that we need to find a way to be more consistent with that. We've shown at different times that we're capable of doing that but with the group we have, it should kind of flow a little bit better than it is right now. We need to make sure we're on the same page and we're executing."
Here are the projected lineups:
Pascal Dupuis - Sidney Crosby - Beau Bennett
David Perron - Evgeni Malkin - Phil Kessel
Chris Kunitz - Nick Bonino - Patric Hornqvist
Daniel Sprong - Matt Cullen - Eric Fehr
Ian Cole - Kris Letang
Olli Maatta - Rob Scuderi
Ben Lovejoy - Brian Dumoulin
Injured: Bryan Rust (undisclosed)
Scratched: Adam Clendening, Sergei Plotnikov
Mike Cammalleri - Adam Henrique - Lee Stempniak
Sergey Kalinin - Travis Zajac - Kyle Palmieri
Jiri Tlusty - Jacob Josefson - Jordin Tootoo
Bobby Farnham - Stephen Gionta - Brian O'Neill
Andy Greene - Adam Larsson
John Moore - Damon Severson
Jon Merrill - David Schlemko
Injured: Tuomo Ruutu (right foot fracture), Patrik Elias (right knee), Stefan Matteau (ill)
Scratched: Eric Gelinas
Status report: Letang and Maatta were paired on defense for the first time this season on Friday. … Penguins coach Mike Johnston will confirm his starting goalie prior to the opening faceoff. Fleury had 26 saves on Friday. … Tlusty will replace Matteau, who played in the win at the Blackhawks on Thursday but was sick on Saturday. … Gelinas will serve as a healthy scratch for a fifth-straight game.
Who's hot: Kessel has two goals and five points in the past five games. … Schneider is 4-2-0 with a 1.82 goals-against average and .937 save percentage in his past six starts.