November 26 – Day 45 – Penguins gone bad?

The only disappointing thing about all the games after Thanksgiving is that we don’t have as busy a Saturday as usual. That being said, most of today’s games have a bit of intrigue. Like usual, we get started at 7 p.m. with five games (Washington at Toronto [CBC/NHLN], Carolina at Ottawa [CITY], Montréal at Detroit [SN/TVAS], Columbus at Florida and New Jersey at Pittsburgh), followed an hour later by Minnesota at St. Louis. The West Coast games get underway at 10 p.m. with Vancouver at Colorado (CBC/SN), trailed half an hour later by tonight’s co-nightcaps, Chicago at Los Angeles and Anaheim at San Jose, at 10:30 p.m. All times eastern.

Short list:

  • Montréal at Detroit: Nothing rings in the holiday season like the first Original Six matchup since Thanksgiving. Yup, you read it here.
  • New Jersey at Pittsburgh: Beau Bennett and Ben Lovejoy spent a combined 11 seasons in Pittsburgh before joining Jersey this off-season.
  • Washington at Toronto: Another return to a former home stadium, but this one features Daniel Winnik.
  • Anaheim at San Jose: We always love a good rivalry, especially involved with two teams from the Golden State.
  • Chicago at Los Angeles: Another rivalry that always produces good TV.

You only make one first return of the year, and since they hoisted the Cup last season, we’ll catch Bennett and Lovejoy’s homecoming.

New Jersey Devils Logopittsburgh_penguins_logo

 

Bennett was the Penguins‘ top pick in the 2010 NHL Entry Draft and played a total of 129 contests over four seasons with the black-and-gold, providing them 45 points over that span. This time last year, Bennett was playing regularly for Pittsburgh, although that would last only a few more weeks until injuries started piling up, limiting him to only 33 regular season and one postseason games.

Lovejoy’s tenure with the Pens is a little but longer, but it took two stints for him to reach his 184 games over seven campaigns. The defenseman made it to the NHL the hard way. Undrafted, he signed a contract with Wilkes-Barre/Scranton in 2007 to, in effect, audition for a job with Pittsburgh. His 20 point, +16 season was enough to do the trick, as the Penguins signed him to a contract the next summer. By the 2010-’11 season, his AHL days were behind him, even though he was regularly a healthy scratch. That season was arguably his best in the Steel City, as he notched 17 points and a +11 in 47 appearances.

After being traded to Anaheim three games into the 2012-’13 season, Lovejoy returned to Pittsburgh at the 2014-’15 trade deadline. He played in every Stanley Cup playoff game last spring, notching six points for a +5.

Both skaters joined the Devils this offseason. Bennett was traded at the 2016 NHL Entry Draft for a third-round pick, while The Reverend left on his own will, joining New Jersey for a three-year deal for $8 million, a far cry from his first $875,000 deal with Pittsburgh in 2008.

Their Devils come to the City of Champions with a 10-6-4 record after hosting the Red Wings last night for a 5-4 overtime loss. While the offense hasn’t been enviable with Taylor Hall and Kyle Palmieri missing time, they’ve kept afloat with a decent defense.

So far this season, New Jersey has allowed only 51 goals, tying for 11th-fewest in the NHL. With 16 starts, Cory Schneider has been has been net for most of those scores, but that’s not to say he’s had a poor season. He has a .915 save percentage for a 2.53 GAA to his credit, which ranks (t)19th and 21st fewest among the 40 goaltenders with eight or more appearances.

With only average netminding numbers, it’d be assumed that the Devils‘ defense is playing out of their mind.

All those who raised their hands are in for some learning.

Schneider faces an average of 30.6 shots against per game, tying for 12th-most in the league. Although Captain Andy Greene‘s 46-block effort has been admirable, he’s the only Devil with more than 40 blocks to his credit. The rest of the blueline needs to get involved, or the Devils may be scheduling tee times right after the regular season.

The power play has not had a lot go their way either. Jersey has been successful on only 13.4% of their attempts, sixth-worst in the NHL. Damon Severson has been the man in charge of the power play with five points to his credit, but those are all assists. The aforementioned Hall was the one with the most power play goals (three), but active Travis Zajac takes that role with two extra-man tallies on his resume.

Hosting them this evening are the 12-6-3 Penguins, who were taken to school in Minnesota yesterday, losing 6-2. While the defense has still led much to be desired, Pittsburgh‘s offense is still one of the best in the league, with 62 goals to their credit – tied for the eighth-highest total in the league.

For those worried that Phil Kessel wouldn’t work out in Pittsburgh, surely you’re doubts ended during last season’s playoffs. If not, you have to believe in the Mr. “The Thrill” now, as he’s leading his club with 21 points. That being said, it’s been Sidney Crosby finishing a lot of plays, with 14 goals in his 15 games played.

Pittsburgh is also home to the seventh-best power play, successful on 21.4% of attempts. That’s where Kessel has been at his best, earning nine power extra-man points. The same goes for Crosby, who leads the squad with five power play tallies.

Some players to keep an eye on this evening include New Jersey‘s Greene (46 blocks [leads the team]) and Zajac (15 points, 10 of which are assists [both lead the team]) & Pittsburgh‘s Crosby (14 goals [leads the NHL]), Kessel (15 assists [tied for second-most in the league] for 21 points [tied for seventh-most in the NHL]) and Matthew Murray (1.58 GAA [tied for second-best in the league] and .945 save percentage [tied for third-best in the NHL]).

From what I’ve found, Vegas doesn’t seem to have a line published for tonight’s contest, which is usually a good sign. That being said, I’m not so confident. The Penguins are an incredible offense that should be able to handle anything Jersey throws at them defensively. Paired with a solid defense, Pittsburgh should earn two points.

Hockey Birthday

  • National Hockey League (1917-) – The Montréal Canadiens, Montreal Wanderers, Ottawa Senators, Quebec Bulldogs and Toronto Arenas band together in what would become the greatest hockey league in the world.
  • Chris Osgood (1972-) – This goaltender played 744 games over 17 seasons, most of which with Detroit, the team that drafted him 54th-overall in the 1991 NHL Entry Draft. At 401 victories, he still has the 10th most in NHL history, and hoisted the Stanley Cup twice.
  • Keith Ballard (1982-) – He may have been drafted 11th-overall in the 2002 NHL Entry Draft by Buffalo, but he never played a game in a Sabres sweater. Instead, most of his 10-year career was spent in Phoenix.

New York took care of business in yesterday’s Game of the Day, beating the Flyers 3-2 in the House that Eric Lindros Built.

Two goals were struck in the opening 20 minutes, and they both belonged to the visiting Blueshirts. 13:16 after the opening puck drop, Second Star of the Game Derek Stepan (J.T. Miller) buried a snap shot to give the Rangers a lead. That lead doubled 1:34 later with Matt Puempel‘s (Jimmy Vesey and Josh Jooris) first goal as a Ranger, only four days after signing with the club.

The eventual game-winning goal found the back of the net with 7:27 remaining in the second period. Kevin Hayes tipped-in Nick Holden‘s initial shot for a 3-0 lead.

Philly tried valiantly to level the game. Only 1:34 after returning to the ice for the third period, Chris VandeVelde deflected Andrew MacDonald‘s shot into the net to pull the Flyers within two goals. The only other score the Flyers could manage was Shayne Gostisbehere‘s (Claude Giroux and Wayne Simmonds) slap shot with 2:04 remaining in regulation.

First Star Henrik Lundqvist earned the victory after saving 40-of-42 shots faced (95.2%), leaving Steve Mason the loss, saving 20-of-23 (87%).

New York‘s victory pulls the road squads within seven points of the home teams, who have a 25-15-7 record.

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