New Jersey (25-8-1-51 pts) @ Pittsburgh (25-10-1-51 pts)
Morning Skate: Pittsburgh Penguins Defenseman Mark Eaton will not play tonight after suffering a right knee injury in Saturday’s win.
Eaton was evaluated by team doctors on Sunday and did not participate in the Penguins morning skate. There has been some concern regarding the extent of the injury as Eaton was slated to be evaluated again today. However, the injury is not being described as a long-term injury at this point.
Defenseman Martin Skoula will return to the lineup.
Pre-Game Buzz: Devils @ Penguins preview
By James Conley _ The best teams in the NHL meet tonight in Pittsburgh.
The Penguins and New Jersey Devils both have a league best 51 points heading into Monday, putting them in a virtual tie atop the Atlantic Division, Eastern Conference and NHL.
New Jersey is currently first in all categories by virtue of fewer games played, but that can change with tonight’s game. The league’s two best teams are also its two hottest. The Pens are 8-1-1 in their last 10 outings, the Devils 8-2.
Pittsburgh last met the Devils Nov. 12 in a 4-1 loss. It was the second time this season the Penguins lost by that score, unable to break the Devils’ system and beat goaltender Martin Brodeur.
On Nov. 12, the Pens were hamstrung with injuries, including Malkin and Gonchar. They will face the Devils tonight almost entirely healthy.
The game has the potential to turn into a scoring affair. The Penguins are third in the league in goals scored (110). The Devils are mid-pack at 17th, but have tagged Pittsburgh for 8 goals in two games this year.
More likely, though, this will be a close-checking defensive game. The Penguins are fifth in the league in blocked shots in front of Marc-Andre Fleury, who has been playing tremendously well lately.
Fleury is 10-1-1 in his last 12 starts. He withstood two third-period assaults in the last two games against the Flyers and Sabres and shut both those teams out in overtime and the shootout. His 92.3 shootout save percentage is best in the league for goalies who have faced more than 5 shots.
The Penguins will want to avoid a close game with the Devils. They are not the offensively-inept Devils of past. After giving up the first three goals in their last game with Atlanta, they came back to win 5-4. New Jersey will be hard pressed to land five goals on a defensively healthy Pittsburgh team with one of the league’s hottest goaltenders, but its not impossible.
The key to victory for the Pens is to score first and take the Devils out of their system. Brodeur is Brodeur. He’s the only goaltender in the league with more wins than Fleury, and his 2.17 GAA and .918 SV% are near the top of the league.
The Penguins need to beat him early and often. They’ve shown the ability to chase Brodeur from the net like no other team, but haven’t come close to doing so in 2009.
Scoring first will also take the Devils out of their system, the miserable neutral-zone trap. Nothing sucks the skill out of hockey like the neutral zone trap, and no one runs the neutral zone trap like the New Jersey Devils.
Jacques Lemaire’s system is firing on all cylinders. If the Penguins want to stay in their system and make New Jersey play a north-south skating game, they need to score first and make the Devils chase.
The power play experiment continues in Pittsburgh, and the Penguins continue to win in spite of it. After showing signs of life against Philadelphia, the power play went 0-5 against a defensively sound Buffalo team. It may take a few power play goals to solve the Devils tonight.
Perhaps surprisingly, the Penguins penalty kill will have to be on top of its game more than the power play as the Devils are 7th in the league in power play percentage. The Penguins penalty kill is ranked 9th.
The Penguins will need to stay out of the box tonight after surrendering 5 power play opportunities in the third period and overtime alone against Buffalo Saturday night.
Speaking of penalty trouble, Evgeni Malkin is 3rd on the team in PIM. He took two more successive minors Saturday, one without even being on the ice. Malkin’s game is predicated on backchecking and careful stickwork, but he needs to spend more time on the ice and out of the box.
The Devils will be without their best defenseman Paul Martin tonight, as well as Dainius Zubrus and David Clarkson. Mark Eaton will be out for the Penguins after missing the last half of Saturday’s game at Buffalo with a right knee injury.
Kunitz – Crosby – Guerin
Dupuis – Malkin – Fedotenko
Cooke – Staal – Kennedy
Rupp – Adams – Godard/Talbot (Game time decision)
Orpik – Gonchar
Skoula – Letang
McKee – Goligoski
*Marc Andre Fleury
Marc Andre Fleury named 2nd star of the week
Fleury won all three starts, posting a 1.26 goals-against average and .957 save percentage, as the Penguins (25-10-1) completed the week tied in points with the New Jersey Devils atop the NHL overall standings. Fleury recorded 26 saves in a 6-1 victory over the Philadelphia Flyers Dec. 15 and turned aside 31 of 33 shots and both shootout attempts in a 3-2 win over the Flyers Dec. 17, completing the Penguins’ first home-and-home sweep over their cross-state rivals in 17 years.
He completed the week by stopping 31 shots and all three shootout attempts in a 2-1 victory over the Buffalo Sabres Dec. 19. Fleury has posted a 21-8-1 record with a 2.31 goals-against average and .911 save percentage in 30 appearances this season and is 4-0 in shootouts, stopping 12 of 13 attempts.