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What to Watch For: Pens vs. Devils

by Michelle Crechiolo / Pittsburgh Penguins

PENGUINS (30-18-4) vs. DEVILS (29-19-3)

Feb. 5, 2012 - 1:00 pm  |  WHERE: Prudential Center

WATCH: ROOT SPORTS  |  LISTEN: Penguins 24/7 Radio, 105.9 FM

After losing three straight heading into the All-Star break, the following six days of rest seems to have treated the New Jersey Devils well as they’ve won all three of their games since resuming play on Jan. 31.

Peter DeBoer's Devils have won all three games coming out of the All-Star break, due in large part to Ilya Kovalchuk and Zach Parise.
That puts them at 7-3-1 in their last 11 games, with their most recent victory coming in Philadelphia on Saturday – a wild 6-4 ride that keeps the Devils just three points behind the Penguins in the standings entering their Sunday matinee at the Prudential Center.

New Jersey has been dealing with a host of injuries to centers Travis Zajac (Achilles tendon), Adam Henrique (groin) and Ryan Carter (hand) along with defensemen Adam Larsson (bruised lower back) and Henrik Tallinder (blood clot).

But the Devils have proven more than capable of dealing with a depleted lineup, and it helps that their best players are at the top of their games. Head coach Peter DeBoer chose to put what he called his “three best offensive players” in Ilya Kovalchuk, Patrik Elias and Zach Parise on the same line the game before last in order to provide a spark to his lineup, and the move’s paid off.

With his goal and two assists against the Flyers on Saturday, Kovalchuk now
has seven points in the last three games. He’s got 21 tallies so far this season, meaning the dynamic Russian force has now hit the 20-goal mark for all 10 of his NHL seasons. Elias has gotten on the scoresheet in 11 of his last 12 games for a total of 16 points over that span, while captain Parise has four goals in his last three outings.

While DeBoer admitted it wasn’t “a perfect situation” putting those three on a line together, it’s not like he hasn’t been getting production from the rest of his lineup. For example, agitating winger David Clarkson is showing a new facet of his game as he’s got three goals and six points in the last three games and a total of 19 tallies overall – a new career best for the 27-year-old.

And let’s not forget their Hall of Fame goaltender Martin Brodeur, who will get the nod between the pipes for New Jersey on Sunday as backup Johan Hedberg got the decision in Philadelphia on Saturday. Brodeur has won his last two starts and is 5-2-1 in his last seven.



It may be somewhat of a cop out to select two players, but these elite talents have been so brilliant since play resumed following the All-Star break that I couldn’t choose just one. We’ll start with Kovalchuk, who has seven points (2G-5A) in his last three games. He has seven multi-point outings in his last 12 and has 17 points over that stretch. He’s been good all year, but seems to be reaching that whole new dimension that he found during the stretch run last year where he put the Devils on his back and nearly carried them to the playoffs – which is a scary thought. Meanwhile, Parise has four goals in his last three games after being held pointless in the five contests before the All-Star break. The intelligent winger looks like he could be on the verge of rediscovering the elite scoring talent that got sidelined for all of last season as he worked his way back from a devastating knee injury.

Cooke scored the game-winning goal to drive the Penguins past the big, bad Bruins on Saturday. It was his second goal in his last three contests, with Cooke breaking a 19-game scoreless drought on Tuesday against Toronto. Lately, Cooke has been playing his best hockey since the opening weeks of the season. Not only is he contributing offensively in terms of the scoresheet, but he’s also amped up his physicality by collecting 46 hits in his last 16 games.

Penguins center Sidney Crosby (diagnosed with a soft-tissue injury in his neck, which is positive news for all) skated before practice Friday while center Jordan Staal and defenseman Simon Despres did off-ice workouts.

All three players are with the team on their three-game road swing through Boston, New Jersey and Montreal, but will not play in any of the games.

Head coach Dan Bylsma said at this point in time, there is not a plan for any of those guys to re-join practice. However, he did add that both Staal and Despres are progressing and returning to practice sometime next week would be a possibility.

F Arron Asham, illness/concussion-like symptoms (9)
C Sidney Crosby, concussion-like symptoms (25)
D Simon Despres, knee (12)
C Jordan Staal, knee (14)

C Ryan Carter, hand (1)
C Adam Henrique, groin (3)
D Adam Larsson, bruised lower back (1)
D Henrik Tallinder, blood clot (6)
C Travis Zajac, Achilles tendon (13)

Author: Michelle Crechiolo

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