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What to Watch For: Pens vs. Devils

by Michelle Crechiolo / Pittsburgh Penguins

PENGUINS (43-21-5) vs. DEVILS (41-25-5)
WHEN: March 17, 2012 - 1:00 pm  |  WHERE: Prudential Center
WATCH: ROOT SPORTS  |  LISTEN: Penguins Radio 24/7, 105.9 FM

Ilya Kovalchuk has three goals and nine points in four games vs. Pittsburgh this season. (Getty Images)
The New Jersey Devils have won six of their last eight games and have pulled within two points of Philadelphia and four points behind Pittsburgh in the tight Atlantic Division standings. Overall, the Devils are 14-7-1 since the All-Star break.

But despite their success, the Devils are struggling offensively as they’ve been shut out in each of their last two games – meaning they haven’t found the back of the net in a 125-minute span. They did win the shootout Thursday against Colorado, 1-0, to move into sixth place in the Eastern Conference, and they have been playing well defensively – allowing just eight goals in their last eight games (one into an empty net). So while there are some positives, New Jersey has been blanked in four of its last 10 games and can’t continue that trend if it wants to win games.

Look for gifted winger Ilya Kovalchuk to spark his team in that department. The Russian sniper reached the 30-goal mark for the ninth straight season on March 11 vs. Philadelphia and had five goals and nine points during New Jersey’s four-game winning streak before the last two shutouts, including his second hat trick of the season on March 8 vs. NY Islanders. He has been outstanding against Pittsburgh all season with three goals and nine points in four games against the Penguins.

It’s somewhat surprising that the Devils are struggling in the goal-scoring department, as they have eight players with double-digit goal totals and four with more than 20. Kovalchuk’s 30 tallies lead the team and he’s followed by captain Zach Parise (28), David Clarkson (28) and Patrik Elias (24). Rookie Adam Henrique, who’s centering Kovalchuk and Parise on the Devils’ top line, is tied for the scoring lead among first-year players with 46 points through 63 games.

Devils head coach Pete DeBoer has already announced that he will start Martin Brodeur in goal on Saturday. The Hall of Fame goaltender, who is 4-1 in his last five starts and got his second shutout of the season Thursday against the Avs, has a 26-18-3 overall mark this year. Broduer has played against the Penguins three times this season, going 3-0 with a 1.33 goals-against average and .961 save percentage.


At this time last season, the Devils captain had to sit and watch as his team tried to put together a magical run to make the playoffs after a miserable first half – ultimately falling short. He played just 13 games last season with a knee injury and the 27-year-old, whose heart and soul are among his greatest assets, couldn’t wait to get healthy and contribute. Parise has been doing just that all year, as he’s close to hitting the 30-goal mark for the fifth time in seven seasons and ranks third in team scoring with 62 points. He’s been playing well lately with five goals and 10 points in nine games during the month of March, and look for him to be a factor Saturday in all situations.


Defenseman Kris Letang rejoined the lineup on Thursday vs. NY Rangers after missing the previous five games with symptoms from a hit he took on Feb. 29 vs. Dallas, and immediately proved why he’s such a vital part of this Penguins squad. Not only did the 24-year-old defenseman skate a team-high 24:22 minutes, Letang set a new season high in the game with his plus-5 rating. Letang also earned an assist in the contest and skated on a pairing with Paul Martin. Penguins will need Letang, who now has nine points (4G-5A) in his last eight games, to be at his best against a Devils squad that always plays them tough.

The Penguins enter Friday's game on a season-high 10-game winning streak. It ties Boston, who won 10 consecutive games from Nov. 1-23, for the NHL's longest winning streak this season. During the streak the Penguins are outscoring their foes 38-15 in regulation.

Pittsburgh's 10-game winning streak is just their fourth winning streak of 10 or more games in franchise history (17 games, March 9-April 10, 1993; 12 games, Nov. 17-Dec. 11, 2010; 10 games, Jan. 28-Feb. 15, 1999).

The NHL's top two penalty killing units will meet on Saturday afternoon, as the Devils rank No. 1 (89.7 percent) and the Penguins rank No. 2 (89.4 percent). And not only are the Devils the league's best in that category, but they've also been adept at creating shorthanded offense as they lead the NHL with 14 shorthanded tallies. Rookie Adam Henrique has four, Ilya Kovalchuk and Zach Parise each have three and Dainuis Zubrus and Patrik Elias have two apiece.

Evgeni Malkin (39G-46A) enters today’s game with 85 total points, placing him slightly ahead of Tampa Bay’s Steven Stamkos (84 points) and Philadelphia’s Claude Giroux (82) in the NHL scoring race. Malkin scored his 39th goal of the year at NY Rangers on Thursday, leaving him one tally shy of reaching 40 for the second time in his career (47 in ’07-08). When Malkin reaches 40 goals, he will become just the sixth player in team history to have multiple 40-goal seasons (Mario Lemieux, 10; Jaromir Jagr, 5; Kevin Stevens, 4; Jean Pronovost, 4; Mike Bullard, 2). Malkin, who leads the NHL with a 1.37 point-per-game average (MIN. 10 games), has points in eight straight road games (4G-4A).

Goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury enters Saturday's game having won nine straight decisions dating back to Feb. 18. However, because he made a relief appearance in between, officially he only has a eight-game winning streak. That’s his second-longest winning streak of the season behind the nine-game run he had from Jan. 13-Feb. 4. Fleury is 19-2-1 in his last 22 starts dating back to Jan. 13 at Florida and his 38 wins rank second in the NHL, one behind Nashville's Pekka Rinne (39).

Since Dec. 23, Fleury has gone 10-3-1 in his last 14 road starts.

Penguins captain Sidney Crosby returned to game action Thursday in New York after being out of the lineup since Dec. 6 with concussion-like symptoms and a neck injury, missing the last 40 games. Crosby chipped in two assists (a second assist was later added after an official review) and logged a solid 16 minutes as the Penguins came away with a big late-season victory. Click here for the full details on Crosby's return.

Goalie Brent Johnson has not practiced since March 7 with an undisclosed injury. Arron Asham did not practice on Friday due to illness and coach Bylsma said he will not play in the game.

F Arron Asham, illness (0)
G Brent Johnson, undisclosed (10)

D Henrik Tallinder, acute thrombophlebitis of lower leg (26)
C Travis Zajac, sore Achilles heel (33)

Author: Michelle Crechiolo

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