WHEN: Jan. 20, 2010 - 7:00 pm | WHERE: Prudential Center
WATCH: FSN | LISTEN:Pens HD Radio, 105.9 FM
New Jersey Devils
Overall: 13-29-3-29 Home: 7-13-2-16
Pittsburgh Penguins vs. New Jersey Devils
LW - #26
• New Jersey’s lone representative at this month’s NHL All-Star Game has eight points in his last eight games, with his 32 points through pacing the squad.
• The longtime Devil, drafted in the second round (51st overall) by the organization in 1994, is the franchise’s all-time leading scorer against the Penguins with 57 points (22G-35A) through 66 games.
• Also holds the Devils’ franchise records for most points in a season with 96 and game-winning goals with 70.
C - #8
• Has scored three goals in his past six games, with his 17 points ranking fifth on the team.
• After being drafted in the first round (15th overall) by Philadelphia in 1996, Zubrus went on to play with the Flyers, Montreal, Washington and Buffalo before signing a six-year contract with New Jersey in 2007.
• The 6-foot-5, 225-pound Lithuanian-born center posted his best offensive numbers in his last two seasons with the Capitals, recording 57 points in 2005-06 before putting up 52 points in 2006-07.
D - #7
• Had spent his entire career with Buffalo, the team that drafted him in the second round (48th overall) in 1997, before signing a four-year contract with the Devils on July 1, 2010.
• The solid defender has been the anchor of the Devils' blue line through an influx of injuries this season, leading the team with an average of 22:33 minutes per game.
• The Stockholm native represented Sweden at the 2010 Winter Olympic Games in Vancouver.
While the New Jersey Devils currently reside in the league’s basement with their 13-29-3 record putting them in last place, they’ve improved majorly since the first half of the season and enter Thursday’s tilt with the Penguins on a bit of a roll.
The Devils have won three of their last four games and earned a point in every contest, with their one loss coming in overtime to Florida on Jan. 15. It’s the first time the Devils have earned points in four straight games since March 30-April 6, 2010.
They’re thriving under the direction of Jacques Lemaire, who took over a struggling Devils squad on Dec. 23. Lemaire’s mentality and preferred style of play has resonated with his team, and the goals are coming hard and fast as a result. New Jersey potted a season-high six tallies in a 6-3 win over Tampa Bay on Jan. 9 before topping the Lightning again by a score of 5-2 on Jan. 14.
Players are emerging from all over the woodwork to chip in offensively, which is a huge step for a team currently averaging just 1.96 goals per game, the lowest number in the league. The Devils have scored a total of 18 goals over their past four games, with 11 different players getting on the scoresheet. They're led by Ilya Kovalchuk and David Clarkson, who’ve netted three apiece.
The Devils have also been spurred by the quietly consistent play of Travis Zajac and Patrik Elias. Zajac has points in 13 of 20 games dating back to Dec. 4, while Elias has eight points (3G-5A) in his last eight contests and leads the team with 32 points in 44 games.
Their improved offense has had a ripple effect throughout the lineup, as goaltender Martin Brodeur is performing much better between the pipes on the back end. Brodeur struggled mightily in the first half of the season, but is now 3-0-1 in his past four starts and is likely to get his fifth straight start on Thursday.
This is the third meeting between the two Atlantic Division rivals. The Penguins have won both contests so far this season after getting swept by the Devils in all six games in 2009-10. Pittsburgh earned a 3-1 victory at the Prudential Center on Oct. 11 with a goal and an assist from Paul Martin, before winning 2-1 at CONSOL Energy Center on Dec. 6, with Sidney Crosby netting the game-winning goal.
The Penguins have been rolling on the road. They enter Thursday’s game at the Prudential Center with the NHL’s fourth-most (tied) road points with 31. Their 14-5-3 record away from CONSOL Energy Center makes it one of three Atlantic Division teams to rank among the NHL’s top-five road teams (with Philadelphia and the New York Rangers being the others).
They also bring a power play that’s been thriving on the road with them to New Jersey. The Penguins have killed off 17 straight opposition power plays on the road, and have been perfect on the penalty kill in six of their last seven overall games. Pittsburgh has killed off 26 of 28 power plays for a 92.9-percent success rate over that stretch.
Marc-Andre Fleury has been a brick wall between the pipes for the Penguins, starting 27 of the team’s previous 31 games. He’s posted a spectacular 20-5-2 record in those contests, earning a 1.91 goals-against average and .938 save percentage in that stretch. Fleury has allowed two or fewer goals in 19 of his 27 starts, ranks sixth in the NHL with a 2.26 goals-against average and 10th with a .922 save percentage.
Chris Conner became the first Penguin since Jarkko Ruutu in 2007 to successfully convert on a penalty shot on Tuesday when he found the back of the net against Detroit, ending a streak of 12 straight unsuccessful attempts for Pittsburgh. Three of his six goals are game-winners and the Penguins are 22-5-3 with him in the lineup.
Clear the Front of the Net: One of the reasons for New Jersey’s 18-goal output in their past four games has been crashing the net and picking up garbage goals. The Penguins have done a solid job in their last two games of being alert in front of Marc-Andre Fleury and clearing bodies and pucks away from the goal mouth, and this will be crucial against a Devils squad that has discovered a way to put up consistent offensive numbers.
Don't Underestimate Them: While the matchup between the Penguins and the Devils may look lopsided on paper – Pittsburgh is 29-14-4, New Jersey is 13-29-3 – the players know it’s going to be a tough battle. The two teams are Atlantic Division rivals and play each other strong every time, with the Devils sweeping all six games of last season’s series. And with New Jersey heating up, the Penguins will have to come out strong and hard, asserting themselves from the drop of the puck.
F Mike Comrie, hip (IR)
C Sidney Crosby, mild concussion (indefinitely)
F Eric Godard, eye (IR)
D Matt Corrente, undisclosed (day-to-day)
LW Zach Parise, knee surgery (indefinitely)
D Bryce Salvador, concussion (indefinitely)
D Matt Taormina, high ankle sprain (indefinitely)
Tyler Kennedy - Head coach Dan Bylsma has reunited Kennedy on a line with road roommate Jordan Staal and Matt Cooke, and the move has paid dividends. Kennedy earned two assists in Pittsburgh’s 4-1 victory over Detroit on Tuesday, giving him his 100th and 101st career points. He’s now riding a three-game point streak that’s seen him record a goal and three helpers, with his line combining for a total of 13 points (5G-8A) over the past three games. Kennedy now has 22 points (7G-15A) through 46 contests, just three shy of his total from last season that took him 64 games to reach.
Ilya Kovalchuk - While everybody has been contributing to the Devils’ recent offensive surge, Kovalchuk has been stepping up the most. He has three goals and five points over his last four games, including back-to-back multiple-point efforts on Jan. 9 and Jan. 14, both coming against Tampa Bay. The sharpshooting forward now has a team-leading 13 goals on the season.