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Pittsburgh vs. New Jersey Preview

by Jason Seidling / Pittsburgh Penguins

Pittsburgh Penguins (26-13-1-53) vs. New Jersey Devils (27-9-1-55)
Where: Prudential Center

When:
Wednesday, December 30, 7 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, DirecTV 659 and Verizon Fios 576.
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View FSN's Broadcast Schedule here()

Season Series:
Pittsburgh has to be happy to see the season series switch to the Prudential Center for the final three contests after dropping the first three at Mellon Arena. New Jersey swept the first half of the series by a combined score of 12-2. Last season in New Jersey the Penguins posted a 1-1-1 record. Sidney Crosby leads the Penguins with assists on both goals against the Devils. Zach Parise leads all scorers in the series with seven points (2G-5A) while Niclas Bergfors has six points (3G-3A).

 
PENGUINS PROJECTED LINES RELATED CONTENT
Forwards
Kunitz-Crosby-Dupuis
Rupp-Malkin-Guerin
Cooke-Staal-Kennedy
Talbot-Adams-Godard

Defense
Gonchar-Eaton
Orpik-Letang
McKee-Goligoski

Netminder
Johnson


Last Meeting: Dec. 21, 2009
  NJD 4 - PIT 0
Game Highlights
AP Recap
 
KEY TO VICTORY
First Goal: Scoring first won’t guarantee a victory – Ruslan Fedotenko struck first for the Penguins on Nov. 12 yet the Devils still came back to post a 4-1 victory – but it would help the cause. New Jersey is 16-3 when they score first while the Penguins’ .882 winning percentage (15-2 record) when they tally first is tops in the league as of Tuesday. Additionally, scoring first would hamper the Devils’ insistence on clogging the neutral zone and slowing down the pace – exactly the opposite way the Penguins prefer to play.

Traffic on Brodeur:
This was a key to the last game against the Devils and it has to remain so until the Penguins can successfully do it. Even at age 37 Brodeur remains one of the top netminders in the NHL by ranking in the top-five in the league in wins, goals-against average and shutouts. Unless he has a bad night Brodeur is not going to be beat with first shots he can see.
 
LOWDOWN ON THE DEVILS
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 lead both the Atlantic Division and the Eastern Conference with a 27-9-1 record heading into Tuesday night.

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 2 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.
 
NEW FACES
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 26 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 on the team through Tuesday with 12 goals and 11 assists.
 
FORWARDS
With Jacques Lemaire returning to the fold the Devils have predictably become noted for their defensive play. Perhaps even more surprising, however, is the number of goals they are scoring offensively. They rank sixth in the Eastern Conference with 107 goals. Leading the charge is a pair of home-grown talents in Zach Parise and Travis Zajac. 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 17 times through the first 37 games and has 42 points to rank 10th in the NHL. Zajac has remained a top playmaker in ’09-10, ranking third on the team in both assists (19) and points (28) through the first 37 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). Langenbrunner continues to play some of his best hockey late in his career. He ranks second on the team in both assists (22) and points (30).

Franchise scoring leader Patrik Elias missed the beginning of the season following offseason groin surgery but has shown little effects thus far with 21 points (8G-13A) in 23 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. A member of the Devils’ 1995 Stanley Cup championship squad, Rolston has 13 goals, which ranks second to Parise and 22 points through 36 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 has seven goals and eight assists through 24 games. Monday night’s win over Atlanta was his first appearance since missing 13 games with a broken ankle. Rookie Vladimir Zharkov, a third-round selection in 2006, was recalled in late November and has six assists in his first 13 games, including a stretch of four straight games with an assist which came to an end against the Penguins on Dec. 21. Zharkov had eight multiple-point efforts in 22 contests for Lowell of the American Hockey League at the time of his recall.
 
DEFENSEMEN
New Jersey is synonymous with defensive hockey and 2009-10 has been no exception. Heading into Tuesday’s games only the Chicago Blackhawks allowed fewer goals (79) than the 81 surrendered by the Devils. The Devils have managed to stay stingy despite getting only nine games this season from No. 1 blueliner Paul Martin. 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 last season 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, and he recently suffered a setback requiring additional surgery, which will keep him on the shelf for another month.

Johnny Oduya, who re-signed to a lucrative contract in the offseason, has only one goal in 22 games, but last season established careers highs with seven goals and 29 points. His game could begin to improve with the confidence he received earlier this week with his selection to the Swedish Olympic team. 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 with Martin’s injury and is pacing all Devils’ defenders with 22 points (5G-17A) in 34 games. Greene leads the Devils in average time on ice at 23:55 per game.

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 22:19 of ice time while picking up some of the minutes created with Martin sidelined. 
 
GOALTENDING
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. In the month of December alone he set a league record by making his 1,030th career appearance and established a new record with his 104th career shutout in a 4-0 defeat of the Penguins on Dec. 21. The nine-time all-star figures to challenge Marc-Andre Fleury for the top netminding chores for Team Canada. Brodeur is 24-9-1 on the season with a 2.15 goals-against average and a .920 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.
 
PLAYER SPOTLIGHT: NICLAS BERGFORS
Zach Parise and Travis Zajac are not the only Devils having big seasons against the Penguins in 2009-10. Rookie Niclas Bergfors has not only emerged as an up-and-coming superstar but also as a Penguins killer through the first three matchups between the teams this season. In three games against Pittsburgh in ’09-10 Bergfors has six points (3G-3A), including two multiple-point performances.

A first-round selection in the 2005 NHL Draft, Bergfors spent the previous four seasons in the American Hockey League, making some label him a bust, but instead he has responded by breaking out for the Devils. He ranks fourth on the team through Tuesday with 23 points (12G-11A). His eight power-play goals are third best (tied) in the NHL.
 
INJURY UPDATE
As has been the case in each of their previous matchups with Pittsburgh, the Devils will be without a couple key defenders.
- Defenseman Paul Martin broke his left forearm in the Oct. 24 game against the Penguins and recently suffered a setback with the injury which will keep him out for another month.
- Dainius Zubrus is sidelined with a broken kneecap.
- Defenseman Bryce Salvador left Monday night’s game with a lower-body injury. There is no word on how long he could be out.
 
"THEY SAID IT"
"It definitely feels good. It feels good for something to finally go in and finally remember what it's like to score a goal again. It's definitely a good feeling."

— Devils forward Zach Parise talking to the Devils official team website about breaking a 12-game goalless drought with a pair of scores in a 3-2 victory over Atlanta on Monday night.

 
POINT OF INTEREST
14th: Andy Greene ranks 14th (tied) among all defenseman with 22 points (5G-17A) in 34 games as he has taken on the role of being New Jersey’s No. 1 defender with Paul Martin sidelined most of the season.
  
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Author: Jason Seidling

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