There aren’t too many games you’d circle on the calendar during December in the NHL season but tonight’s game between the Devils and the Pittsburgh Penguins is one of them. They bring with them the two best records in the NHL to the Igloo tonight and face-off for the highly coveted, first-place spot in the Atlantic Division. (No one wants 4th instead of 1st come April).
New Jersey and Pittsburgh could not be any more different in their configuration. Pittsburgh has a star-studded team with three monsters down the middle in Sydney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, and Jordan Stall. With premier puck-moving defenseman Segei Gonchar and the up-an-coming Alex Goligoski behind him, the Penguins have enough fire power to embarrass any team any night of the week.
The Devils have preached defensive responsibility first and count on most of their goals from their solid wings, led by Zach Parise, Brian Rolston, Patrik Elias (playing out of position at center until Dainius Zubrus returns) and Jamie Langenbrunner.
Although the Devils have won the first two contests, both 4-1 drubbings in Mellon Arena, this will be the first in which Pittsburgh is relatively healthy. New Jersey, meanwhile is still minus Zubrus, David Clarkson, and their number one defenseman Paul Martin, but no one seems to notice that when you lead the NHL in points percentage (.750).
Rolston, one of the catalysts for a Devils offense that ranks 12th in the NHL in goals per game (2.85) told The Star Leger’s Colin Stepehenson the team recognizes the importance of tonight’s game but still has to look at it as another game in December because the division title will not be settled tonight.
“I don’t want to make it a big game,” he said. “I think we just want to continue exactly what we’re doing. We’re going to play a good hockey team and it’s a good measuring stick, for sure. They’re the Stanley Cup champions and we have a good record right now, and it’s going to be a good hockey game. I think that’s where it begins and ends.’’
Three Things To Look For:
1. The Parise Watch - It’s now been 10 games since Zach Parise has scored for the Devils which I think is remarkable because nobody works harder on the ice every night from him. Luckily for the Devils, while he and line mate Travis Zajac have been slumping, the duo of Patrik Elias and Brian Rolston has been flourishing. Once they get those two lines going together, this team will be hard to stop, especially with the masterful two-way play of Rob Niedermayer and Jay Pandolfo on the third line.
2. Martin Brodeur vs. Marc-Andre Fleury - Likely two of Team Canada’s three goalies for the Olympics will be on the ice tonight. While most signs pointing to Brodeur as the number one, Fleury has picked it up after a slow start. Brodeur has out-played him in two meetings so far.
3. Containment of Pittsburgh’s Centermen- In the first two meetings, Pittsburgh’s Big Three combined for 0 goals 2 assists (both from Crosby). Although Malkin missed the second matchup, he was invisible in the first and that doesn’t happen too often with him.
Expect a great game tonight.
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