PENGUINS (21-10-1) vs. DEVILS (12-14-6)
Last 10: New Jersey 3-6-1; Pittsburgh 7-2-1
Season series: This is the third of four games this season between the New Jersey Devils and Pittsburgh Penguins. Marc-Andre Fleury shut out the Devils 3-0 at Consol Energy Center in the season opener on Oct. 3 while a pair of goals by ex-Penguins star Jaromir Jagr led New Jersey to a 4-1 win at Prudential Center on Nov. 16.
Big story: Each team will be playing on back-to-back nights with games also scheduled for Saturday, but for the Metropolitan Division-leading Penguins it's the start of a particularly busy stretch. They'll play five games in the next seven days and seven in 11 before the Christmas break arrives. That likely means a breather for Fleury and a start or two for rookie Jeff Zatkoff (4-2-0, 2.80 goals-against average, .901 save percentage) somewhere along the way.
Devils: Provided a rare two-day break prior to facing the Columbus Blue Jackets, coach Peter DeBoer chose to give his players an optional skate Monday. However, after New Jersey allowed a 3-1 lead to slip away in a 5-4 loss Tuesday, the Devils had their first full team practice in more than three weeks on Wednesday.
"I think we needed to practice," forward Dainius Zubrus told The (Bergen) Record. "It's good with Pete that we have the same system and same things that we've done for a couple years now, but still with some young guys coming in, we develop our (good) habits in our practices. The good habits need to kick in and we need to be doing them consistently."
Penguins: Mounting injuries on the blue line and a recent five-game suspension to forward James Neal have tested Pittsburgh's depth, and yet the Penguins continue to chug along. Their only losses in the past eight games have been one-goal defeats to the Boston Bruins. They enter off a 2-1 win against the Blue Jackets in which their best players took charge: Fleury made 32 saves and Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin scored the goals.
"It's not an ideal situation we have with those guys hurt, but you can't do anything about that," rookie defenseman Olli Maatta said in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. "All you can do is play your best. Guys get hurt, and somebody's got to step up. I feel like we have a lot of guys that have done that. We've got to keep doing it."
Who's hot: Michael Ryder has four goals in his past five games for the Devils. Patrik Elias has one goal and four assists during a four-game point streak. … Malkin has five goals and 15 assists during a 10-game point streak for the Penguins. He has at least a point in 16 of his past 17 games, with the Devils on Nov. 16 the only team to hold him off the score sheet. Crosby has three goals and four assists during a four-game point streak.
Injury report: New Jersey defenseman Anton Volchenkov (back) left the game Tuesday and is day-to-day. Defenseman Bryce Salvador (foot) is practicing but won't play this weekend. Forward Ryane Clowe (concussion) has been medically cleared to play. Defenseman Peter Harrold (foot) is out indefinitely. Defenseman Adam Larsson (lower body) and forwards Ryan Carter (lower body) and Stephen Gionta (ankle) are on injured reserve. … Pittsburgh forward Andrew Ebbett (ankle) is out indefinitely. Goalie Tomas Vokoun (blood clot), defensemen Brooks Orpik (head), Rob Scuderi (ankle) and Paul Martin (leg) and forwards Beau Bennett (wrist) and Tanner Glass (hand) are on injured reserve.