PENGUINS (x-x-x) vs. DEVILS (x-x-x) WHEN: December 8, 2012 - 7:00 pm | WHERE: Prudential Center
After coming within just two wins of capturing their fourth Stanley Cup title in franchise history this past June, the New Jersey Devils will embark on the 2012-13 campaign without the services of their former captain. Zach Parise, who recorded 31 goals and 69 points in the regular season, along with 15 more points in the playoffs, departed for Minnesota on Independence Day, signing a 13-year, $98 million contract with the Wild.
Parise was undoubtedly the most noticeable offseason loss for the Devils, but he wasn’t the only player, or coach for that matter, to depart Newark this summer. Forwards Alexei Ponikarovsky and Eric Boulton, along with defenseman Matt Taromina also headed out of the town via free agency.
Head coach Peter DeBoer suffered losses behind the bench as well. Assistant coach Adam Oates left to take the head coaching job in Washington, while assistant Larry Robinson was named an associate coach in San Jose. Former Devils captain and Hall-of-Fame defenseman Scott Stevens and former Sharks assistant Matt Shaw will fill the voids left by Oates and Robinson.
Despite those loses, the Devils still have one of the greatest to ever strap on the pads sticking around for at least one more year. Forty-year-old Martin Brodeur will return in goal for New Jersey this season, looking to add to his all-time NHL best 656 career win total.
New Jersey still has plenty of fire power up front which teams will contend. Last season’s leading scorer Ilya Kovalchuk will be looking to improve upon his return to form last season. The dynamic Russian winger potted 37 goals and 83 points, putting up the types of numbers the Devils expect him to produce. Patrik Elias, 36, returns for a 17th NHL season, all with New Jersey. The Czech Republic native can still play, recording 26 goals and 78 points in 2011-12, good for second in scoring on the team.
Center Adam Henrique, who had a breakout year, will likely be expected to play a larger role now that Parise is gone. The 22-year-old had 51 points last season, including 35 assists. Physical winger David Clarkson found his scoring touch in 2011-12, registering 30 goals for the first time in his career, adding 138 penalty minutes along the way. In addition, New Jersey brought in tough guy Krys Barch during the offseason, after amassing five points and 114 penalty minutes last year.
The Devils have a respectable blue line as well, with recognizable names such as Marek Zidlicky, Anton Volchenkov, Henrik Tallinder and 19-year-old Adam Larsson all returning to the lineup. Perhaps one of the postseason’s biggest surprises, shutdown defenseman Bryce Salvador also returns after re-upping with the club for three more seasons. After going 82 games without a goal in the regular season, the 36-year-old Salvador recorded four goals and 14 points in New Jersey’s run to the Cup Final.
DEVILS: ILYA KOVALCHUK
Kovalchuk has always enjoyed success against Pittsburgh, and the 2011-12 campaign was no different. In six contests against the Penguins last season, the native of Tver, Russia recorded 11 points (4G-7A), along with a plus-5 rating and 25 shots on goal. After only putting up 60 points two seasons ago, Kovalchuk rebounded for 83 points in his second full season with the club. Kovalchuk led New Jersey in scoring last year, and was fifth in the points column throughout the NHL. PENGUINS: XXX
Ben Lovejoy , knee (5)
F Mats Zuccarello, broken wrist (6)
D Steve Eminger, lower body (10)
D Michael Sauer, concussion (56)