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Scouting Report: Pens look to avoid let down against woeful Devils

Penguins Game Day

When: December 6 2010 | Where: Consol Energy Center
Division matchups are traditionally tough. Monday’s meeting with the hapless Devils may not have the makings of a trap game, however. The Devils have likely already put their playoff hopes to bed with a start of 8-16-2 through 26 games.
Pittsburgh has more victories in its current winning streak – 9 – than the Devils have all year.

NEW JERSEY DEVILS AT PITTSBURGH PENGUINS

What a difference a year makes. For most of the 2009-10 season, the New Jersey Devils had a death grip on the Atlantic Division lead, landing the East’s number two playoff seed and the year’s biggest free agent in Ilya Kovalchuk.
Now, the Devils battle only the Islanders in avoiding the league’s worst record. Ilya Kovalchuk has scored only five goals and is a minus-15. Monday’s game in Pittsburgh could leave the Penguins with the best record in the NHL, and put them up two games to none for the season series.
2010-11 SERIES
October 11, 2010
Penguins Win 3-1
Goals: Goligoski, Letestu, Martin
Goalie: Brent Johnson
Last season, the Devils swept the Penguins in six games, outscoring the Penguins 22-5 in those games. This season, the Devils have scored the fewest goals in the NHL (1.8 per game) and are third-worst on the power play (11.5 percent).
Pittsburgh is fast moving in the opposite direction. Over their streak, the Pens have worked their way into a tie for most points in the NHL (38 – Washington, Philadelphia).
The battle level of the Penguins over the last few weeks has been top-notch and the team’s talent is flourishing as a result. Skill players are scoring, role players are grinding and the points total continues to skyrocket.

PITTSBURGH PENGUINS

The list of superlatives to describe the team’s play is fast running out. A win tonight could potentially make the Penguins the first team to 40 points this season. The Capitals, also at 38 points, play the Toronto Maple Leafs at 7:00 Eastern.
18-8-2, 38 pts.
8-5-1 Home, 10-3-1 Road
1st Atlantic, T-1st East
9-0-1 Last 10
Pittsburgh’s unbelievable streak continues to push their team stats towards the top of the NHL. After Saturday’s 7-2 shelling of the Columbus Blue Jackets, Pittsburgh sits 8th in goals per game (3.1).
The power play notched 3 goals, bringing that unit up to 11th (18.0 percent) – the highest it has ranked since the 2008-09 season.
Defensively, the Pens continue to dominate. Marc-Andre Fleury made 21 saves on 23 shots in the Columbus win. The team is now third overall in goals against (2.36 per game) and second on the PK (89.3 percent).
The Pens have also scored 5 shorthanded goals, tied for second-most in the league.
Pittsburgh is 10th overall in shots per game (31.8), 3rd in shots against (27.7 per game). They have the fourth most PIM in the league, bolstered by their 26 fighting majors (tied for second-most in the NHL).
As for personal domination, Sidney Crosby continues to extend his lead in the scoring race. He owns a six-point lead over Steven Stamkos, and has twelve points in hand on Alex Ovechkin.

NEW JERSEY DEVILS

8-16-2, 18 pts.
4th Atlantic, 14th East
4-6-2 Home, 4-10-0 Road
4-6-0 Last 10
New Jersey’s woeful season couldn’t get much worse with another loss to the Penguins. At present, New Jersey is 13 points back from the last playoff seed in the East.
As much as folks like to say the balance of power resides in the NHL’s Western Conference, there are three teams in the West in a playoff position with 30 or fewer points. Atlanta, the East’s current number eight seed, has 31.
New Jersey has its work cut out if it is going to climb back into that kind of playoff picture. Over a ten game stretch that runs from Nov. 27 against Philadelphia to Dec. 21, the Devils will play Pittsburgh, Detroit, Phoenix, Atlanta and Washington. The Devils have already played the Canadiens and the Philadelphia Flyers (twice) in the first three games of the stretch, losing twice.
Of the nine teams in the ten game stand, only the Ottawa Senators and Nashville Predators currently sit outside the top-8 in their respective conferences.
That’s a tough run for any team. With injuries to key players such as Martin Brodeur and Zach Parise, the Devils will have to fight to keep their heads above water heading into the second half of the season.
New Jersey is 4-10-0 away from Prudential Center this year, while Pittsburgh is on a 5-game winning streak at home. Pittsburgh is 8-5-1 overall in the CONSOL Energy Center after starting 3-5-1.
There’s no quick cure for what ails the New Jersey Devils. The team is hard against the cap. The injured list is massive. Ilya Kovalchuk, the hundred-million dollar man, is having the worst statistical season of his career.
The Devils may be the worst collective offense in the game, sitting dead last in goals and 28th in power play percentage (11.5). Defensively, the team is little better. With injuries to Martin Brodeur and key defensemen, the team is 24th in goals against (3.0) and the penalty kill is 17th (82.0 percent).
Patrik Elias is the team leader with 17 points (there are three Penguins players with more, and several more within a few points of 17). Jason Arnott, reacquired from Nashville this offseason, leads the Devils with 9 goals.
Ilya Kovalchuk has been the big story. In 25 games, the left winger has 5 goals and 6 assists. He has just 3 points on the power play, and is a team-worst minus-15.
For that matter, only four Devils players are a plus on the season, and just three more have an even rating.
By all accounts, the Devils were supposed to have upgraded their personnel with offseason signings of Kovalchuk, Arnott, Anton Volchenkov and Henrik Tallinder. Injuries have played a part, but it might be fair to suggest the loss of head coach Jacques Lemaire and his trap defense have left the team without an identity.

PAUL MARTIN

The former Devils defenseman landed a goal and assist in his first game against his old team (and was booed by the ten-thousand or so fans in attendance each time he touched the puck).
Martin potted two goals Saturday in Columbus. The defenseman now has 3 goals and 11 assists on the season and is a plus-3. He has also been instrumental in stabilizing the top power play unit, which has gone from worse than 20th to 11th overall with his play at the point.

INJURIES

The Pens will be without Evgeni Malkin tonight, who is still working out soreness in his knee. It’s a nonstructural injury and Malkin remains day-to-day.
Mike Comrie (lower body) and Jordan Staal (hand) also remain out.
The Devils will be without a number of starters. Out indefinitely are D Matt Taormina (high ankle sprain), D Mark Fraser (broken hand), D Bryce Salvador (concussion) and D Anssi Salmela (knee), as well as C Jacob Josefson (thumb).
Goaltender Martin Brodeur remains out with an elbow injury. He will backup tonight. Zach Parise will be out until February after sustaining a knee injury that has forced him to miss most of the season.

Penguins Lineup

Kunitz – Crosby – Dupuis
Cooke – Talbot – Asham
Conner – Letestu – Kennedy
Rupp – Adams – Godard
Defensemen
Orpik – Letang
Martin – Michalek
Goligoski – Lovejoy
Marc Andre Fleury will start in goal

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