There had been plenty of speculation about roster changes for the New Jersey Devils and Pittsburgh Penguins in the weeks leading up to the NHL trade deadline, and both teams made deals to alter their lineups.
Now that the deadline has passed, these two teams have objectives at hand and a better idea of who is going to be around to help reach them.
"As soon as that deadline is over it kind of creates more of a bond between the guys," Penguins forward Mike Rupp said. "We know this is it and if we're going to win, it is going to be us pulling together. You know you're not looking for help anywhere else. That's something we can cling to and become a tighter team for it."
The Penguins added forwards James Neal
and Alex Kovalev and defenseman Matt Niskanen
at the deadline while subtracting defenseman Alex Goligoski. Pittsburgh's roster issues come from a rash of injuries that has sidelined captain Sidney Crosby
and several other top players.
The team knows Evgeni Malkin
is not coming back for the rest of the season, but most of the other injured guys should be. Chris Kunitz
skated Friday morning and will do so again in the pre-game warmup at Prudential Center, but coach Dan Bylsma said he will not play against the Devils. He could return Saturday against Boston.
"It was more for us looking at the guys we had out who were hurt and trying to figure out when we might get some healthy bodies back," Pittsburgh forward Craig Adams
said of tense times around the trade deadline. "We've got that now. We've got three or four guys back, and our team is starting to look more like a full roster. There's still a few guys out, but this is the group we have going forward and we feel pretty good about it."
The big question mark remains Crosby. The Hart Trophy favorite at the time of his injury, Crosby will miss his 25th game because of a concussion and there is no timetable for his return.
While the Penguins got off to a hot start without Crosby, winning eight of the first 12 games he missed, reality set in and a team missing its two best players (along with several other key contributors) has now lost nine of the past 12.
The closer to the end of the season the Penguins go without Crosby, the more likely it could be that they will be without him once the playoffs begin.
"To be honest it isn't something we've talked about as a group, but certainly the longer guys are out you just sort of mentally have to move on," Adams said. "Do I think Sid will back this year? Yeah, I think he will be. That's no inside scoop or anything -- I am just a positive thinker. I think he will be and obviously he will help our team tremendously when he does.
"At the same time, I don't go into games thinking, 'We don't have Sid.' He's been gone for a while and you just kind of adapt and move on."
Added Rupp: "We're searching for wins right now, and that is without him. We're going to continue to do that. If we come in one day and get that great news, then obviously it is a bonus. Right now we're just going to go about it with who we've got in this room and we need to find some ways to get some W's."
There have been games recently during this skid where the Penguins have played well, but a costly mistake or two has been the difference. The margin for error is much smaller without guys like Crosby and Malkin around to steal points with an offensive outburst.
Adding Kovalev and Neal while welcoming Kunitz back should help the offense, but this group of Penguins has to find ways to win without Crosby -- for the time being and maybe longer.
"We have played better, but at the same time we have to be aware that we don't have the same type of offense we used to," defenseman Kris Letang
said. "To trail behind in games would be tough to come back from. I think we've started to figure that out, and with the new guys coming in and guys coming back from injuries we have new lines and new partners. I think everybody is now starting to get used to each other."
Added Adams: "I think in the past six or seven games we have played better. Maybe it is just mentally moving on or moving forward with what we have and not waiting for guys to come back. We can still be a lot better. We can take less chances and manage the game better in certain situations, but I think we're going in the right direction."
Author: Corey Masisak | NHL.com Staff Writer