NEW JERSEY DEVILS (3-0-3, 9 PTS) @ PITTSBURGH PENGUINS (4-3-0, 8 PTS)
PENGUINS LOOK TO GET GOING AT HOME
The Penguins start a stretch of six games in nine days, where they will play the New Jersey Devils in three of those next six games, and the Penguins look to get things going at home.
The Penguins have been outscored 9-3 in two home losses and Marc Andre Fleury has woeful numbers at home with a 5.43 GAA and .780 save percentage in two starts.
“We’ve won a lot of hockey games after that two or three games to start that season,” Penguins head coach Dan Bylsma said on Friday. “We haven’t played well here (at home) we’re going to win a lot of home games.”
The Penguins are coming off their most complete game of the season, a 3-0 win vs the New York Rangers, and the biggest question mark for this hockey club is them putting together multiple games of playing team defense and having strong puck management. For a game or two, they get focused on playing their own end well and being smart with the puck but the Penguins haven’t been consistent in that area, dating back to the last quarter of last season.
When the Penguins have been successful defensively this season, they are keeping teams to the outside, which they did Thursday night.
“I thought we did a pretty good job of keeping everything most to the outside defensively,” captain Sidney Crosby said. “We played with a lot of speed, a lot of pace. I think as far as a complete game goes that was the best job we did.”
“I think very much we’re still finding exactly what our best game looks like and what we need to play like as opposed to a team that had most goals for last 20 games last year and also had a lot of goals against,” Bylsma said. “That’s not necessarily a team that did well in the playoffs with that mentality. (Thursday) was a start. We’re building. We’ve got to build that trust and belief.”
BABY STEPS ON THE POWER PLAY?
The Penguins went 1 for 6 on the power play vs the Rangers, getting a big power play goal from James Neal, but are still just 1 for their last 18 on the man-advantage.
However, we saw some small baby steps and with Neal back down low, the Penguins are getting close to having players in their proper spots. For the Penguins to get where they want to go this season, the power play with this talent has to become a major weapon for this team and put teams away.
With the Penguins arguably lacking some toughness and showing some signs of being pushed around, teams are not scared to take runs at Crosby and Malkin and that will continue if the power play doesn’t improve.
We all know the Penguins lack a right handed sniper from the left side as the Penguins are too left handed, but not every team is blessed like the Tampa Bay Lightning.
For this power play to maximize it’s potential, someone has to evolve into a power play quarterback and Kris Letang just might not be the answer but do the Penguins have a better option internally?
Running a triangle up top is the best formation on the power play with this group and the best placement would be Letang on the left side, Malkin on the right side, Crosby down low and James Neal in the slot.
Moving Letang to a more shooters spot on the left side is ideal but who could play the top of the triangle? Paul Martin is not enough of a shot option to be that player there as the opposition would not fear his shot from the point and just slide over to Letang and Malkin on the left and right sides, respectfully.
Simon Despres is not yet ready for that type of role.
The only internal option might be Matt Niskanen when he gets healthy and he’s worth a look. If Letang doesn’t start showing improvement as the power play quarterback in the next four to six weeks, Pittsburgh might be forced to go hard after a Sergei Gonchar or Mark Streit if both go on the trade block later this year.
Chris Kunitz (ill) is a game time decision. If Kunitz doesn’t play, Dustin Jeffrey is expected to play on the top line. It’s expected Kunitz will give it a go…Zach Boychuk will make his Penguins debut and skate on the second line…..
BY THE NUMBERS
*The Penguins were 27.3% on the power play vs the Devils in 2011-2012.
Marty Brodeur (3-0-2, 2.32 GAA, .913 sv%) is 4-1-1 with a 1.15 goals-against average in his last six starts in Pittsburgh.
Marc Andre Fleury (2-2-0, 2.95 GAA, .890 sv%) is 14-18-4 with a 2.59 GAA in his career vs NJD but is 5-1-0 with a 1.49 GAA and 1 shutout in his last six starts at home vs Devils.
*Zach Boychuk’s first career NHL goal came Marty Brodeur and the New Jersey Devils on 2/13/10.
*Sidney Crosby has 19 goals and 42 points in 36 career games vs New Jersey.
*Chris Kunitz has 17 points in 21 career games vs New Jersey. Kunitz was tied with a team-high 6 points vs New Jersey last season.
*Patrick Elias is the Devils all-time leading scorer with 23 goals and 66 career points vs Penguins. Elias has 2 goals and 7 points on the season.
Ilya Kovalchuk had a team-high 11 points in six games vs the Penguins last season.