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Pittsburgh vs. New Jersey Preview

by Sam Kasan / Pittsburgh Penguins



THE FUNDAMENTALS
Pittsburgh Penguins (18-12-4-40) at New Jersey Devils (19-10-3-41)
 
Where: Prudential Center
When: Friday, December 26, 7:00 p.m.
Radio: WXDX Radio, FM 105.9
TV: FSN Pittsburgh, the game will be broadcast in HD, available on Armstrong 179, Atlantic Broadband 782, Citizen 737, Comcast 226/774, DISH 428 and DirecTV 659.
*View FSN's HD Broadcast Schedule here
Season Series: The Penguins are 1-1-1 against the New Jersey Devils this season, with an 0-1-0 mark at the Prudential Center, suffering a 4-1 defeat Dec. 10. Pittsburgh lost to New Jersey in overtime in its home opener Oct. 11. The Penguins got even at home with a 4-1 win Nov. 29 thanks to Sidney Crosby’s first hat trick of the season.
 
PENGUINS PROJECTED LINES RELATED CONTENT
Forwards
Dupuis-Crosby-Satan
Fedotenko-Malkin-Sykora
Talbot-Staal-Cooke
(unknown)-(unknown)-Godard

Defense
Orpik-Scuderi
Boucher-Goligoski
Eaton-Whitney

Netminder
Fleury


Pens vs. Devils 12/10
 
KEYS TO VICTORY
Break the Trap: Pittsburgh has struggled mightily against trapping-style teams like Minnesota, Vancouver and Tampa Bay. The Devils have utilized the trap for nearly two decades and are considered the masters of the strategy. The Penguins will have to make crisp breakout passes to break the trap and not allow the Devils to frustrate them. Ryan Whitney's return will help Pittsburgh's puck movement out of its own zone.

Protect the Crease: The Penguins also struggled with keeping the crease clear against opponents this season, including the Devils. New Jersey loves to crash the net and pick up ugly goals from close range. The Penguins need to improve on this facet of their game and it may be the difference in the game.
 
LOWDOWN ON THE DEVILS
Head coach Brent Sutter is in his second season leading the Devils. Sutter steered the club to a 46-29-7 record last year, finishing fourth in the Eastern Conference with 99 points and earning a playoff berth.

New Jersey suffered a huge blow when the franchise, Martin Brodeur, was lost following elbow surgery at the start of November. The Devils were 6-2-2 before losing Brodeur. The team struggled off the bat without their future Hall of Fame goaltender, losing five of the first six games. Since then, however, New Jersey has been unstoppable. The Devils have lost only three times in their past 16 game (12-3-1) and surged past the Penguins in the standings.
 
NEW FACES
The Devils added two retread players who were previously with the organization: Brian Roston and Bobby Holik. Rolston (1994-00) returns following stops in Colorado, Boston and Minnesota. Holik (1992-02) played for the Rangers and Thrashers in the previous five season. Both haven’t seen much action this season with injuries limiting them to 14 games each.
 
FORWARDS
The Devils are known more for their defensive prowess than their offense but the team is averaging 2.97 goals a game, ranking 10th in the NHL - a major improvement over last season’s 27th finish. Left winger Zach Parise leads the team in scoring with 40 points (18+22) through 32 games. He’s on pace to shatter his previous career highs in goals (32), assists (33) and points (65) - all set last season. Patrick Elias is behind Parise with 37 points (16G-21A) in 32 contests. Brian Gionta has 28 points on nine goals and 19 assists on the season.

Gifted center Travis Zajac is off to the best start of his career with nine goals and 14 assists for 23 points. He’s really excelling between Jamie Langenbrunner (21 points) and Dainius Zubrus (19). General Manager Lou Lamoriello brought back two former Devils, Holik and Rolston, to help bolster the team's scoring. Rolston registered 30 goals in each of the last three years in Minnesota but has been limited to only 14 games with a high ankle sprain. A broken right pinkie finger has kept Holik out of the lineup for all but 14 games. The duo is playing with winger David Clarkson. Defensive forward John Madden is back in the lineup - although he isn’t shadowing opponent’s top scorers as he used to. He’s currently centering the fourth line with Mike Rupp and Jay Pandolfo.
 
DEFENSEMEN
Colin White returns for his seventh season with New Jersey. He leads all Devils defensemen with a plus-11 rating. White is a monster on skates at 6-foot-4 and 220-pounds. He’s one of the strongest players in the National Hockey League and has matured into the Devils’ top blue liner. White is one of New Jersey’s leaders in the locker room and will likely be designated the duty of shutting down the Penguins prolific scorers. Veteran Bryce Salvador, a late season acquisition last year, returns after signing with the team in the offseason. He’s a solid presence on the blue line but has missed the last three games with an upper-body injury.

Paul Martin and John Oduya provide some offensive punch from the blue line. Oduya leads the defensive corps with 13 points (3G-10A) while Martin is second with 11 points. Last year, Martin finished with 32 points (5+27) while Oduya recorded a team-high plus-27 rating.

Mike Mottau is a stay-at-home defenseman that has a plus-10 rating. Andy Greene registered six points (1G-5A) in his first six games this season, including a career high three-assist game. Jay Leach has filled in admirably in three separate call ups from Lowell (AHL) and is proving that he’s an NHL-caliber defenseman.
 
GOALTENDING
With Brodeur down, the Devils have turned to Scott Clemmensen and Kevin Weekes. Clemmensen has stepped up in Brodeur’s absence. He’s earned the bulk of the starts by posting a 11-4-1 record with a 2.22 goals against average and .922 save percentage. Weekes has seen 13 seasons of NHL action and has experience as a starting goaltender at the highest level. 

Even at the age of 36, Brodeur is still the NHL’s premiere goaltender. Last season he won his fourth Vezina Trophy in five years after posting a 44-27-6 record with a 2.17 goals against average and .920 save percentage. He will miss another one-two months following the left elbow surgery. However, by the end of the season Brodeur may still own every goaltending record in the books, including wins, games played and shutouts.
 
PLAYER SPOTLIGHT: SCOTT CLEMMENSEN
Scott Clemmensen has been carrying the load for New Jersey and is coming off of his first loss this month (2-0 to Boston in which the Devils netminder surrendered only one goal). Prior to the loss, Clemmensen was 7-0-1 in the month of December. He’s been a career backup, including four seasons behind Brodeur, and is getting his first opportunity to be the man. Clemmensen has good size at 6-foot-3 and 205 pounds and takes up a lot of space. He started the season in the American Hockey League but has solidified his status as an NHL goaltender.
 
"THEY SAID IT"
"We have to do a better job (at Mellon Arena). Teams have to realize when they're coming in here, it's a tough game to win. We need to establish that more."
- Sidney Crosby on creating a home-field advantage
 
HIDDEN STAT
3: Goaltender Scott Clemmensen's career-high single season win total before this season. The Devils netminder has won four-straight games on two separate occasions this year and currently has 11 victories.
 

Author: Sam Kasan

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