By: Casey Johnston (@CaseyR82)
Last Game for the Penguins: Monday, a 2-1 win over the Columbus Blue Jackets. It was a low scoring game despite the combined 63 shots on goal. The first goal came in the second period when Evgeni Malkin got in behind the Blue Jackets’ defenders and scored an easy goal as Curtis McElhinney failed in his attempted poke check. Sidney Crosby got a dirty goal off a Pascal Dupuis pass at 8:52 of the third period. After nearly scoring on an empty net, Marc-Andre Fleury gave up a goal to Matt Calvert at 19:04. Fleury faced 33 shots on the night while McElhinney saw 30.
Last Game for the Devils: Tuesday, a 5-4 loss to the Columbus Blue Jackets. Cam Atkinson and Brandon Dubinsky each had four point nights for the Blue Jackets while Damian Brunner had two goals for the Devils. The Devils blew a two goal lead in the second period. The Blue Jacket took the lead 18 seconds into the third period, but allowed the Devils to tie the game with six minutes remaining. Nick Foligno clinched the win for Columbus at 18:29. Martin Brodeur gave up all five goals on 23 shots while Curtis McElhinney stopped 30 0f 34 shots.
Last Time These Two Teams Met: November 16, 2013, a 4-1 win for the Devils. Andy Greene scored late in the first period to put the Devils on the board. Chris Kunitz tied the game in the first five minutes of the second period. The Devils got another late-period goal, this time from Adam Larsson. Jaromir Jagr scored twice in the third period. Marc-Andre Fleury stopped 18 of 21 shots while Martin Brodeur stopped 27 of 28.
Last 10 Games for the Penguins: 7-2-1.
Last 10 Games for the Devils: 3-6-1.
Story of the Game: With the loss of Brooks Orpik to a concussion, the Penguins are now missing three of their top four defensemen. Despite the losses of Rob Scuderi, Paul Martin, and Orpik, the Penguins defense has not missed a beat. They are still ranked fifth in the league in goals against per game and second in penalty killing. They are also holding teams to 26.4 shots per game, good for fifth in the league.
A big part of the Penguins success has been the defensemen’s ability to play big minutes in tough situations. Against Columbus, Olli Maatta played 19:40 while he and Kris Letang both lead the Penguins with 1:21 minutes on the PK. Matt Niskanen played 22:38 minutes, second on the team behind Kris Letang, and was not on the ice for a goal against. Even Deryk Engelland, who played seven minutes more than his season average despite getting only 39 seconds of PK time, got an assist on the Malkin goal and led the team with five blocked shots and three hits.
The guys that are left have, for the most part, handled themselves well this season, but many of them have had guarded minutes against lower quality of competition. Olli Maatta, who will probably see the biggest jump in ice time with this string of injuries, has been on the ice for 14 even strength goals against, good for 1.79 goals against per 60 minutes of even strength time. Matt Niskanen and Simon Despres have even strength goals against per 60 minutes of 1.27 and 1.09, respectively (keep in mind the low sample size for Despres). If these are the three guys joining Kris Letang in the top two defensive pairings, then the Penguins could do worse. They will have to step up and play a little beyond their development, but if they follow the system and play sound fundamental hockey, then they should weather this storm.
Penguins All-Time Record Against the Devils: 91-98-17-8.
Player to Watch on the Penguins: Kris Letang has six points (2g-4a) in his last seven games.
Player to Watch on the Devils: Jaromir Jagr has three points, all assists, in his last two games. Barring a trade or a playoff matchup, this may be his last game in Pittsburgh.