Penguins (29-11-1) (59 points, 1st in Metropolitan)
Devils (16-16-8) (40 points, 5th in Metropolitan)
The Penguins begin the second half of their 82-game schedule with their last game in the calendar year of 2013 in their final matchup against the New Jersey Devils. The Penguins look to continue the success that they found in the first half of the season, posting the franchise’s second best 41-game start in history with 59 points.
As you all know rather well, it’s New Year’s Eve. So take note of the nontraditional 1:00 start for the ROOT Sports broadcast.
And if you’re out hitting the Sauce after you hit this Sauce, have a safe, fun, and saucy celebration.
Full recap after the jump.
The Penguins are looking to finish a pretty solid month of December. A win today would give them a 12-2-0 month that could see their Metropolitan Division lead to as many as 16 points just over halfway through the year. Their latest victory was a 5-3 win over Columbus carried by 5 points from James Neal in a game where the Penguins were thoroughly outplayed.
Here’s a nice little piece from Sam Kasan on 11 Takeaways from the Penguins’ first half of the year. He probably picked 11 to troll Jordan Staal.
On the injury front, the “reinforcements” are returning… to Wilkes-Barre, that is. With the call ups who held the fort beginning to head back to the A, starting roster players are beginning to recuperate. The news that Harry Zolnierczyk and Brian Dumoulin were sent back to the Baby Pens came down Friday evening. While it’s not a certainty, it could well mean that Evgeni Malkin could be activated off of Injured Reserve very soon. We may even see him play, but word hasn’t come down on that quite yet.
Rob Scuderi made his return on Sunday after missing about a month and a half with a broken ankle. He said he was feeling a bit rusty.
I felt better as the game went on, certainly rusty … Condition-wise and skating is not a problem. It’s reading the play, when to go to the right spot, where you’re supposed to be. It takes time to come back. – via penguins.nhl.com
So we’ll roll with the assumption that the lines will look the same as they did on Sunday against Columbus.
Kunitz – Crosby – Vitale
Neal – Jokinen – Conner
Gibbons – Sutter – Kobasew
Adams – Sill – Glass
Orpik – Engelland
Scuderi – Niskanen
Brotuzzo – Despres
Not sure why Olli Maatta was the odd man out. Well, we have out inclinations. The kid has hit a rough patch over the past few games. He gave the puck away a good bit in the Carolina game, and he got posterized on the Tropp goal. But we have said and will continue to say that he is going to have rough patches and have to play through them. Look at Paul Martin, for, say, all of 2011-2012. You burnt his junior contract, you should probably let the kid play through it. Though we’re not in favor of sitting Despres, either. So whatever.
It’s worth noting that while Malkin was the extra skater during line rushes in the practice Friday, he did run the point on the second power play unit when the team broke out into that phase of the skate.
The Devils have exuded mediocrity for the entire first half of the season. They haven’t been great, and they haven’t been awful. They’re in that middle-of-the-pack logjam between 3rd and 7th in the Metropolitan. And a large part of why is their inability to get the bonus point in 3-point games. In games going to the extra frame, the Devils have lost 8, while going 0-6 in shootouts. Picking up even a few of those points would have the Devils looking a lot healthier in the playoff picture heading into 2014.
Feels like we type this at least once every few months, but it could well be the last time the Penguins face off against Jaromir Jagr. Jagr leads the Devils with 34 points (13G, 21A). It could also be the last time the Penguins see sure-to-be Hall of Famer Martin Brodeur, depending upon whether Fat Marty decides to lace ’em up again next year. Brodeur has started 22 games this year compared with 18 starts for offseason acquisition Cory Schneider. Brodeur will get the call today.
Zubrus – Zajac – Jagr
Clowe – Henrique – Ryder
Elias – Gionta – Bernier
Boucher – Loktionov – Janssen
Greene – Fayne
Salvador – Zidlicky
Gelinas – Merrill
What To Watch For:
1) James Neal is red hot. He has 8 points in his last two games and had 5 against Columbus. He’s been seeing a good bit of time on that mixed line with Crosby and Kunitz. Neal has played in 2 of the Penguins’ 3 games against the Devils this year but hasn’t recorded a point. We have a feeling that will probably change.
2) Jagr and Zubrus have 3 points a piece in the first 3 matchups. Jagr always seems to find a way to do something against the Penguins, so we will see how he handles what will probably be a combination of Orpik-Engelland and Scuderi-Niskanen.
3) The Penguins’ power play moved back into first in the league (25.7%), while their penalty kill unit is now second (87.7%). New Jersey’s kill is solid as well (86.7%), so it’s strength versus strength in that phase of the game.
Make the Devils pay for creating the Internet and making you read our wordvomit.