Injuries are the big story for both the third-place Pittsburgh Penguins (18-10-1) and the bottom-feeding New Jersey Devils (9-13-4) on Thursday night at the Prudential Center in Newark. The Penguins will be without centers Evgeni Malkin and Teddy Blueger during their two-game set against Boston this week. Jared McCann is also out.
New Jersey will be without Nico Hischier and possibly Pavel Zacha, who is day-to-day.
The show must go on.
“Obviously, ‘Geno’ is a huge part of (recent winning streak). We’re going to miss him out there, but we’re ready for the challenge,” Kasperi Kapanen said.
The Penguins have won 11 of their last 15 games to claim third place in the MassMutual East Division. Without Malkin or Blueger, the Penguins could not get a second goal against the Boston Bruins on Tuesday, despite 35 shots. Boston won 2-1, and the Penguins season may have been altered.
The Penguins had a great chance to add points on the upcoming feasts against the lowly Buffalo Sabres and New Jersey Devils, as both lag well behind in the East Division.
The lack of pivots in the lineup could quickly change the feast to scrounging. Evan Rodrigues appears to be penciled in for second-line center duty with Brandon Tanev on the left and Kasperi Kapanen on the right.
Defenseman John Marino said he is a game-time decision, after missing the last several games.
“We watched from the training room. It’s different to see the game from a different perspective–different angle from on the ice,” Marino said. “It’s nice to take a look back, see the game in a different way.”
The Penguins recalled Czech free-agent signing Radim Zohorna from WBS Penguins for the game on Thursday.
Tristan Jarry, who raised his season save percentage to .906 with a 42-save win on Monday will start in goal for the Penguins. MacKenzie Blackwood will toe the rubber for the Devils. He is 6-8-1 with a 3.05 GAA and .903 save percentage.
Expected Pittsburgh Penguins Lines
|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:
New Jersey has given the Penguins problems in the past because they could skate with the Penguins, and they’re easy to play against. The combination was a subtle poison for the Penguins. New Jersey is 3-2-1 against the Penguins at the Prudential Center since the 2017-18 season.
New Jersey is 4-9-0 against the top five teams in the East Division. Three of those four wins are due to their strange mastery over the Boston Bruins (3-0-0).
New Jersey head coach Lindy Ruff is a stickler for details and defensive attention. Might the Devils borrow a page from Boston and pack the zone to thwart the Penguins’ offense, knowing the Penguins are depleted?
Try to win 2-1. It wouldn’t be the worst strategy.
The Penguins will have to attack New Jersey. Forecheck. Turnovers. Scoring Chances. Then hope a few guys who aren’t natural scorers can finish a few chances.
The orchestral Penguins breakouts will be challenged and challenging without two primary centers and two or three new line combinations.
The Penguins have been adept at reverting to “Keep it Simple” when injuries decimate their lineup. They probably have the right opponent to play simply. Get the puck in deep. Get it. Get it to the net.
“What we stress is making sure we play together, and we have a collective effort out there,” Sullivan said. “Simplicity is always part of success … That’s something we talk about with our guys a lot, regardless of who is in the lineup.”
Turnovers, sloppiness, or trying too hard will be a kiss of death for the Penguins. Unless, of course, Tristan Jarry steals another one
Pittsburgh Penguins Game Notes
Position, Player (Consecutive Games Missed, Total Games Missed)
F Jason Zucker (12 consecutive, 12 total)
D Mark Friedman (7 consecutive, 7 total)
F Jared McCann (5 consecutive, 12 total)
D John Marino (4 consecutive, 4 total)
F Teddy Blueger (1 consecutive, 1 total)
2020-21 Total Regular-Season Man-Games Lost: 155
*Rookies in NJ: Ty Smith (2g, 11a), Janne Kuokkanen (5g, 7a), Yegor Sharangovich (6g, 4a), Nathan Bastian (2g, 4a), Mikhail Maltsev (4g, 0a), and Nicholas Merkley (1g, 2a) have all combined for 20 goals, 28 assists for 48 points which leads all rookies in points this season. As of March 17, 2021, the Devils one of two teams to have their rookies combine for 20 goals and 28 assists, respectively.
*Last season, the Penguins were 2-1-0 against the Devils, which included a 1-1-0 record at the Prudential Center.
*The Penguins are 7-2-0 during March. Their seven wins and 34 goals-for are tied for third-most, while their .778 points percentage is tied for sixth-best in the NHL.
*The Pittsburgh Penguins face former assistant coach Mark Recchi tonight for the first time since his offseason termination. Recchi spent the previous six seasons with the Penguins organization. He served as a development coach from 2014-17 and an assistant coach from 2017-20.
How to Watch
TV: AT&T SportsNet; Radio: 105.9 The X