In a normal season, this would be the halfway point, but no one is complaining. The Pittsburgh Penguins (25-13-2) hit the home stretch with the final 16 games of the regular season beginning Friday against the New Jersey Devils (14-18-6). The puck drop is 7 p.m. at the Prudential Center.
Pour a cup of coffee and have the no-doze handy. The Penguins’ last few games against New Jersey Devils were the antithesis of excitement, which was purposeful. New Jersey won two of three games two weeks ago.
The Penguins have hit their stride and quickly rebounded from a two-game losing streak with a solid win over the New York Rangers on Thursday, 5-2 at Madison Square Garden. The Penguins are one of only a few teams in the league to avoid a three-game losing streak this season.
As of Friday morning, the Penguins have a 99% chance to make the playoffs and currently have a 10-point lead over Philadelphia for the final playoff spot in the East Division. The Penguins’ magic number is 25 points (really, it’s 24 points assuming the Penguins will have more regulation wins than Philadelphia, but 25 to be safe).
It’s been the Penguins’ secondary players who have stepped to the fore during the Penguins’ injury crisis. Radim Zohorna and Evan Rodrigues had multi-point games on Thursday. Jared McCann has five goals in his last seven games.
According to the Penguins morning release, Casey DeSmith will start in goal. DeSmith has provided his big-league bonafides this season with a 9-5-0 record, .915 save percentage, and a 2.30 GAA.
However, Teddy Blueger has not yet been cleared to return to play.
The New Jersey starting goalie is not confirmed. However, their lineup will be without a pair of primary players. New Jersey traded star winger Kyle Palmieri and center Travis Zajac to the New York Islanders this week.
Expected Pittsburgh Penguins Lines & Special Teams
|Jake Guentzel||Sidney Crosby||Bryan Rust|
|Jason Zucker||Evgeni Malkin||Kasperi Kapanen|
|Jared McCann||Jeff Carter||Freddy Gaudreau|
|Zach Aston-Reese||Teddy Blueger||Brandon Tanev|
|Brian Dumoulin||Kris Letang|
|Mike Matheson||Cody Ceci|
|Marcus Pettersson||John Marino|
Expected New Jersey Devils Lines
|Janne Kuokkanen||Jack Hughes||Yegor Sherangovich|
|Andreas Johnsson||Nico Hischier||Marian Studenic|
|Miles Wood||Michael MCleod||Nathan Bastian|
|Nolan Foote||Mikhail Maltsev||Nick Merkley|
|Ryan Murray||Damon Severson|
|Wil Butcher||P.K. Subban|
|Jonas Siegenthaler||Matt Tenison|
|TEAM||Power Play||Penalty Kill|
|Pittsburgh Penguins||23.7%, 4th NHL||77.4%, 27th NHL|
|New York Islanders||18.8%, 21st NHL||83.7%, 6th NHL|
What to Watch:
I took some heat from more strident New Jersey residents for my jokes about New Jersey being to exciting hockey what the Arizona Coyotes are to fiscal stability. Perhaps the SAT question format fooled them? (I’m kidding, relax).
New Jersey purposefully sucked the rubber out of the puck, and the Pittsburgh Penguins game was played on the perimeter. It was a slog, and the Penguins didn’t respond well.
New Jersey goalie MacKenzie Blackwood was also very good.
Can the Penguins crack the packed zone and clogged ice? The Penguins will need to physically muscle their way into the dirty areas and keep trying–unless they can sucker New Jersey into an open game. Don’t bet on that with New Jersey coach Lindy Ruff.
The Penguins also have every reason to attack New Jersey, who are depleted without Palmieri and Zajac. If the Penguins can get a goal or two in the first period, the game will change for the better.
Watch for the Penguins to bring the defenseman from the back. A low-high game works if the forwards get low and get to the net.
Pittsburgh Penguins Game Notes:
Position, Player (Consecutive Games Missed, Total Games Missed)
D Mark Friedman (18 consecutive, 18 total)
F Teddy Blueger (12 consecutive, 12 total)
F Evgeni Malkin (11 consecutive, 11 total)
F Kasperi Kapanen (7 consecutive, 7 total)
F Brandon Tanev (2 consecutive, 8 total)
2020-21 Total Regular-Season Man-Games Lost: 213
*The Penguins have earned points in eight of their last 10 games overall (7-2-1).
*The Penguins are 8-2-1 in back-to-backs (6-0-0 the first night; 2-2-1 the second night).
*Bryan Rust has points in five consecutive games (2G-3A) against the Devils.
*Kris Letang had one goal and one assist on Thursday. It was his 10th multi-point effort of the season, moving him into a three-way tie for most multi-point games among defensemen.
Penguins Taxi Squad:
F – Anthony Angello
F – Josh Currie
D – Yannick Weber
G – Emil Larmi
*The Penguins have 15 players with 10 or more points. Pittsburgh is one of four teams (WSH, MIN, NYI) to have 15 or more 10-point getters.
How to Watch, 7 p.m.:
TV: AT&T SportsNet, ESPN+
Radio: 105.9 The X