What to Watch For: Pens vs. Devils
Wednesday, 04.24.2013 / 2:17 PM ET / Features
By Michelle Crechiolo
WHEN: April 25, 2013 - 7:30 p.m. | WHERE: Prudential Center
WATCH: ROOT SPORTS, NBC Sports Network | LISTEN: Penguins Radio 24/7, 105.9 FM
The Penguins are in New Jersey to play the Devils on Thursday at Prudential Center for their last road game of the regular season. The Devils were officially eliminated from playoff contention on Sunday, the first time in six years a Stanley Cup Finalist has failed to make it out of the regular season the following year (they fell to the Los Angeles Kings in six games in 2012).
The Devils, who have won two of three against the Penguins this year, began the season with a scorching 8-1-3 start – but their play started to decline in mid-February. That’s right around when they lost Hall of Fame goaltender Martin Brodeur, who went down with a back injury Feb. 24 – pulling himself from a scheduled start against Winnipeg that day after warmups. He missed a total of 13 straight games (10 due to injury and three serving as a backup). The Devils went 3-8-2 in his absence.
Backup Johan Hedberg assumed the starter role when Brodeur was out and played every one of those 13 games, but has not seen any action since Brodeur made his return as the Devils desperately pushed to make the playoffs. But he will get to play one more game this season as Hedberg will be in goal on Thursday versus Pittsburgh, his first start since March 19.
Not only were the Devils without Brodeur for a long period of time; they were also missing Ilya Kovalchuk. The star winger injured his right shoulder in a game against the Panthers on March 23 – one game after Brodeur returned. To illustrate the importance of Kovalchuk to the Devils’ lineup, he missed the next 11 games – and the Devils lost the first 10 (0-6-4). Kovalchuk made his return April 18 and general manager Lou Lamoriello said he will play the rest of the regular season since he is healthy. Kovalchuk has 10 goals and 29 points in 35 games.
However, captain Bryce Salvador will not be playing. The defenseman suffered a wrist injury on April 10 after getting hit in the hand with a Zdeno Chara shot in a game against the Bruins. But the Pens may see former teammate Steve Sullivan, who spent last season with Pittsburgh. Sullivan signed with Phoenix in the offseason and was traded to the Devils at the deadline. The veteran winger was named the ‘First Star’ after scoring a power-play goal and an assist in the Devils’ last game, a 3-2 win over Montreal.
These are the lines New Jersey used Tuesday against Montreal...
Alex Ponikarovsky - Andrei Loktionov - Ilya Kovalchuk
Patrik Elias - Travis Zajac - David Clarkson
Dainius Zubrus - Jacob Josefson - Steve Sullivan
Ryan Carter - Stephen Gionta - Steve Bernier
Andy Greene - Adam Larsson
Anton Volchenkov - Marek Zidlicky
Alexander Urbom - Peter Harrold
DEVILS: PATRIK ELIAS
There’s a chance Thursday could be Elias’ last game in front of the home crowd. The Devils alternate captain has spent all 1,088 NHL games with the franchise since being drafted by New Jersey in 1994, where he’s totaled 928 points (375G-553A). But the 37-year-old winger is set to be an unrestricted free agent this summer, and he’s not sure what the future holds. But as he told the Star-Ledger, “Nothing is going to change for me. I’ll play the same way.” Elias is the team’s leading scorer with 14 goals in 34 games. He’s scored three in his last three games. And his career numbers against Pittsburgh are staggering: 23 goals, 44 assists, 67 points, plus-26 rating in 79 career games. Look for an emotionally charged game from Elias on Thursday.
PENGUINS: JAROME IGINLA
Iginla now looks completely comfortable in a Penguins jersey since making his debut on March 30. He brings a four-game goal and point streak (4G-1A) into Thursday’s game against the Devils. This is the perfect time for Iginla to get hot heading into the playoffs; I would expect to see him play the rest of the regular season to keep building that momentum. I’m also interested to see how Iginla matches up with another star right winger in Ilya Kovalchuk. It will be a good test for Iggy.
Below are some of the personal milestones that Penguins players will be chasing during the final two games of the regular season:
*Looking to play in every regular-season game for the second-straight season and third time in four years.
*Looking to play in every regular-season game for the second-straight year.
*Looking to establish a career high in plus-minus at plus-26 (previous best: +20 in 2010-11)
*Looking to play in every game for the second-straight season.
*Looking to establish a career high in plus-minus at plus-30 (previous best: +18 last year).
*His next goal will be his 21st of the year – the second-highest total of his career (25 last year).
*Currently owns a 2.35 goals-against average. His career low is 2.32 established in 2010-11.
*Looking to play in every game for the first time in his career.
*Looking to establish a career high in plus-minus at plus-28 (previous best: +23 in 2006-07).
*His 20.4% shooting percentage would be a career high (previous best: 17.3% in 2010-11).
*Needs one game-winning goal to equal his career high of six (2007-08).
*Looking to play in every game for the second-straight year and third time in his career.
*Looking to become the first NHL defenseman to average a point per game or better since Mike Green in 2009-10.
*Looking to play in every game for the third-straight season.
Pittsburgh’s power play has gone 9-for-30 (30%) over its last six games. During that stretch the Penguins have scored at least once on the man-advantage in five of the six games. For the season, the Penguins have clicked at a 23.8% success rate on the power play – the second-best mark in the NHL behind only the Washington Capitals (26%). This is currently the sixth-highest single-season percentage in franchise history. Jarome Iginla has scored three power-play goals in his last four games. During the month of April, Iginla’s four power-play tallies are tied with Alex Ovechkin for most in the NHL. Iginla ranks fifth (tied) among all NHL players with six power-play points this month (4G- 2A).
Jarome Iginla and Brenden Morrow continue to rank among the hottest Penguins. Iginla has scored goals in four straight games entering Thursday – his longest such streak of the season. Iginla has at least one point in six of his past seven games (4G-4A-8PTS). Morrow collected a pair of assists against the Senators on Monday night to give him three multiple-point games in his last five contests. He has tallied at least one point in six of his past nine games (5G-6A-11PTS). Morrow has recorded 11 points in just 13 games with Pittsburgh after collecting 11 points (6G-5A) in 29 games with Dallas.
ON THE VERGE
Marc-Andre Fleury ranks fourth in the NHL with 22 wins, giving him 248 for his career. Should he earn two more victories by the end of the season, he will become the fourth-youngest netminder in NHL history to reach that milestone. Fleury enters tonight’s game having gone 12-2 in his last 16 appearances dating back to March 4. Fleury has gone 4-1 in his last five road starts.
Chris Kunitz reached the 50-point mark for the second-straight year and fifth time in his career after scoring the Penguins first goal against Buffalo on Tuesday. Last week, Kunitz collected his 400th NHL point when he earned an assist on Kris Letang’s goal against Boston on April 20. This season, he and Tampa Bay’s Martin St. Louis are the only NHL players who have yet to go back-to-back games without a poin
Kris Letang enters Thursday’s game having picked up points in five-straight games (2G-5A-7PTS) – although it doesn’t qualifying as an official streak due to him missing a game during it. He now has 35 points on the season, second-most among NHL D-men (P.K. Subban, 36). Letang is the only blueliner in the NHL averaging a point per game this year. Perhaps more impressively, Letang has picked up just eight penalty minutes despite leading the team in average time on ice (25:41) ranking in the top half of the team in hits per game.
Game notes courtesy of manager of communications Jason Seidling
Coach Dan Bylsma said Paul Martin and James Neal, who participated in Thursday's morning skate, are back to full practice but will NOT play tonight. Martin is hopeful to play in the regular season finale Saturday at home vs. Carolina.
Bylsma also said that Brooks Orpik (lower body), Joe Vitale (lower body) and Sidney Crosby (dental work) all stayed in Pittsburgh. Orpik and Vitale are day-to-day.
F Sidney Crosby, broken jaw
D Paul Martin, broken bone in hand
F James Neal, concussion
D Bryce Salvador, wrist
Author: Michelle Crechiolo