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Pittsburgh vs. New Jersey Preview

by Jason Seidling / Pittsburgh Penguins

Pittsburgh Penguins (25-10-1-51) vs. New Jersey Devils (25-8-1-51)
Where: Mellon Arena

Monday, December 21, 7:30 p.m.
Radio: WXDX Radio, FM 105.9
FSN Pittsburgh, the game will be broadcast in HD, available on Armstrong 179, Atlantic Broadband 782, Citizen 737, Comcast 226/774, DISH 428, DirecTV 659 and Verizon Fios 576.
View FSN's Broadcast Schedule here()

Season Series:
The Penguins and Devils meet for the final time at Mellon Arena in ’09-10, as the last three games of this series will take place at the Prudential Center in New Jersey. The Devils have won both contests by scores of 4-1 on Oct. 24 and Nov. 12. Sidney Crosby has assisted on both Pittsburgh goals while Travis Zajac (1G-4A) and Nicklas Bergfors (2G-3A) have each recorded five points for the Devils.




Last Meeting: Nov. 12, 2009
NJD 4 - PIT 1
Game Highlights
AP Recap
Staal Line vs. Zajac-Parise Line: The New Jersey offense goes through its top line featuring Zach Parise and Travis Zajac. They rank among the Devils’ leaders in the scoring department and are the primary reason the Devils took the first two games of this series. Zajac is tied for the team lead against Pittsburgh with five points (1G-4A) while Parise has recorded a goal and an assist in each contest. Look for Jordan Staal’s unit to get the call against the Devils version of the dynamic duo.

Traffic on Brodeur:
Pittsburgh has outshot the Devils in each of the first two games by a combined total of 59-51 but has managed to get the rubber behind Martin Brodeur only twice. The National Hockey League’s all-time wins and shutout leader is tough to beat without traffic at the top of his crease. Tips, deflections and rebounds are the best ways to get the biscuit behind Brodeur.  
Long-regarded for their stifling neutral-zone trap, the Devils offense opened up the past two years under former head coach Brent Sutter. New Jersey had five players score 60 or more points as their 244 goals scored as a team in ’08-09 were the most by a Devils squad since the 2000-01 team scored 295. Over the past 20 years New Jersey has been one of the National Hockey League’s top franchises, capturing three Stanley Cups, making four Cup Final appearances and appearing in the postseason 17 of the last 18 seasons. The Devils are right back at the top of both the Atlantic Division and the Eastern Conference with a 25-8-1 record.

When Sutter elected to step down during the summer, New Jersey general manager Lou Lamoriello tapped into the club’s past to bring Jacques Lemaire back as head coach. Lemaire previously coached New Jersey from 1993-98, leading the Devils to a Stanley Cup championship in 1995, defeating the Penguins in round two along the way. In 15 seasons with the Devils, Minnesota Wild and Montreal Candaniens prior the start of this season, Lemaire posted a coaching record of 540-414-177.
A familiar surname returned to the Devils over the summer as a Niedermayer was brought back into the fold, although this time it was Rob, not older brother Scott, who patrolled the Devils blue line from 1991-2004. Rob Niedermayer brings a wealth of veteran savvy and a 2007 Stanley Cup ring to the Meadowlands. He is one of the league’s top shutdown, checking-line performers whose game will fit in well with the brand of hockey employed by Lemaire. Niedermayer missed 11 games due to injury earlier in the season but has 12 points (5G-7A) through 23 games.

Nicklas Bergfors has stepped up through the first half of the season to provide much-needed secondary scoring for the Devils. A first-round selection in 2005, Bergfors spent a majority of the past two seasons with the Devils’ American Hockey League affiliate in Lowell, improving his numbers from 12 goals and 27 points in ’07-08 to 22 goals and 51 points last season. Bergfors ranks fourth (tied) on the team with 11 goals and 11 assists.
The development of home-grown talents Zach Parise and Travis Zajac has given New Jersey two dynamic young talents to spearhead the offensive attack. Parise can be considered one of the premier players in the NHL after scoring 45 goals last season. He boasts one of the best wrist shots in the league and he has used it to score 15 times through the first 34 games and has 37 points to rank in the top-20. Zajac is off to a fast start in ’09-10, ranking third on the team in both assists (18) and points (27) through the first 34 games. The young pivot blossomed next to Parise and Jamie Langenbrunner in ’08-09, hitting careers highs in goals (20), assists (42) and points (62). Franchise scoring leader Patrik Elias missed the beginning of the season following offseason groin surgery but has shown little effects thus far with 18 points (7G-11A) in 20 games.

New Jersey brought Brian Rolston back for a second tour of duty last season but the speedy winger suffered his lowest-scoring season since 1999-2000, finding the back of the net only 15 times while battling through injury. He is off to a better start this year with 13 goals, which ranks second to Parise and 22 points through 33 games. Emerging big man David Clarkson continues to prove his game is more than just toughness, progressing from nine goals as a rookie to 17 last year. He notched seven goals and eight assists through 23 games before breaking his ankle. Rookie Vladimir Zharkov, a third-round selection in 2006, was recalled in late November and has six assists in his first 11 games, including a current four-game point streak. Zharkov had eight multiple-point efforts in 22 contests for Lowell of the American Hockey League at the time of his recall.
Throughout their almost two-decade streak of defensive dominance, the Devils have featured a great core of defensemen. Although this group lacks the star-power names previous editions had in Scott Niedermayer, Scott Stevens and Brian Rafalski, to name a few, there is plenty of quality in this group. Paul Martin and Johnny Oduya, each 28, blossomed under Sutter. One of the league’s top two-way defensemen, Martin is regularly overshadowed when measured up against the league’s elite. Capable of supplying offense to the attack, as he led all Devils defensemen with 33 points (5G-28A), Martin is especially dependable clearing his own zone, finishing last season plus-21. Martin had two assists in nine contests before breaking his forearm against the Penguins on Oct. 24.

Oduya, re-signed to a lucrative contract in the offseason, has only one goal in 19 games, but last season established careers highs with seven goals and 29 points. He is a great skater and solid point-man on the power play. Slightly-undersized Andy Greene missed significant action with a broken wrist in ’08-09, but is also capable of contributing to the offensive attack. He has taken charge along the back end due to injuries to Oduya and Martin, pacing all Devils’ defenders with 19 points (5G-14A) in 31 games. Greene has seen his average ice time increase from 18:25 in the first meeting with the Penguins two weeks ago to 23:53.

Colin White and Bryce Salvador are two heavy hitters who match up well against big, physical forwards. Each is solid on the penalty kill and capable of moving the puck up ice, although neither offers an offensive presence. Former Hobey Baker award winner Mike Mottau has transformed from career AHLer to legitimate NHL-caliber defenseman the past two seasons. He led all Devils blueliners with a plus-24 rating last year. This season the steady if unspectacular Mottau has averaged 22:33 of ice time while picking up some of the minutes created with Martin sidelined. 
Martin Brodeur is possibly the most complete goaltender to ever strap on the pads in NHL history. Since becoming New Jersey’s No. 1 man during the second half of his rookie season in 1993-94, Brodeur has re-written almost ever major statistical category. On Friday night he set a league record by making his 1,030th career appearance and earlier established a new record with his 103rd career shutout. The nine-time all-star played only 31 games in ’08-09 after suffering an elbow injury against Atlanta on Nov. 1, 2008. He has regained his form this season and figures to challenge Marc-Andre Fleury for the top netminding chores for Team Canada. Brodeur is 22-8-1 on the season with a 2.17 goals-against average and a .918 save percentage.

Prior to missing a majority of last season, Brodeur had played 70 or more games 10-straight seasons, never winning less than 38 games during that period. Among the best stickhandlers to ever play the position, Brodeur is one of nine netminders to be credited with a goal, as he and the retired Ron Hextall are the only ones to score twice.

With Scott Clemmensen, who filled in admirably during Brodeur’s absence, gone to the Florida Panthers, Yann Danis is the new backup. Danis spent ’08-09 with the New York Islanders, posting a 10-17-3 record with a 2.86 goals-against average and a .910 save percentage. He is 3-0 with a 2.00 goals-against average and a .929 save percentage in four appearances for New Jersey this season.
Like a fine wine Jamie Langenbrunner continues to get better with age. The 34-year-old captain of the Devils established career highs across the board last season in goals (29), assists (40) and points (69). With 29 points (8G-21A) through the first 34 games Langenbrunner is on pace to better those totals once again.

A two-time Stanley Cup champion, Langenbrunner has been more noted for his two-way play than for his offense before spending a majority of the past two seasons with Zach Parise and Travis Zajac. Langenbrunner’s performance over the previous two seasons will likely result in him being named to Team USA later this month. He is also a strong penalty killer for the Devils. 
Three long-term injuries have the Devils playing without their top defenseman and two big bodies who can score goals up front.
- Defenseman Paul Martin broke his left forearm in the Oct. 24 game against the Penguins and remains out indefinitely.
- Dainius Zubrus is sidelined with a broken kneecap.
- Big-man David Clarkson was off to a career year prior to breaking a bone above his ankle.
"It's not as important as winning. The reason why I'm here is to win hockey games. But I guess it says a lot about being a good goalkeeper, staying around so long.”

  — Devils goaltender Martin Brodeur talking to Yahoo! Sports about setting the NHL record with his 1,030th appearance on Friday night.

21.9: New Jersey has the league’s seventh-best power play heading into Sunday’s games.  

Penguins and Devils Battle for First Place

Head coaches often stress that one game is never more important than the next in an 82-game regular season. Such a statement is especially true when the two combatants are fighting for Eastern Conference and Atlantic Division supremacy.

Monday night’s meeting between the Penguins and the New Jersey Devils at 7:30 p.m. at Mellon Arena is set up for such a showdown. Read more here ...

Author: Jason Seidling

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