Devils-Penguins Preview

The Pittsburgh Penguins made few changes despite falling short
in the playoffs once again.

The New Jersey Devils had a more eventful offseason.

The Penguins will have a couple of missing players for Thursday
night’s opener against the visiting Devils, who are expected to
start new goaltender Cory Schneider instead of Martin Brodeur.

While other franchises might not fret, Pittsburgh’s four-season
Stanley Cup drought is perhaps at least a slight concern for fans
of such a talent-laden roster. The Penguins (36-12-0 in 2012) made
it to the Eastern Conference finals last season – their first
appearance since their Cup win in 2009 – but were outscored 12-2 by
Boston in a four-game sweep.

“You have to get over it pretty quickly and realize it’s a long
season ahead of us,” forward Sidney Crosby said. “We’ve got to
learn from that but obviously you can’t dwell on it. I think we’ve
moved on.”

Instead of retooling, Pittsburgh extended coach Dan Bylsma’s
contract by two seasons, and gave former MVP Evgeni Malkin and
Norris Trophy finalist Kris Letang eight-year deals. Pascal Dupuis,
one of three Penguins players to score at least 20 goals last
season, inked a four-year deal with the team that finished with the
best record in the East.

The Penguins will have to get over some early injuries in their
attempt to duplicate that feat. Letang is starting the season on
injured reserve (lower body) but could return soon.

More troubling was the news that goaltender Tomas Vokoun is
expected to miss three to six months with blood clots in his hips.
Vokoun took over as the team’s starter in the playoffs after
Marc-Andre Fleury posted a 3.40 goals-against average in the
opening-round series against the New York Islanders.

Should Fleury, who spent a portion of the offseason working with
a sports psychologist to help him regain his confidence, struggle
again, the Penguins might have to rely on Jeff Zatkoff, who has yet
to appear in an NHL game.

The Devils (19-19-10), meanwhile, have two top-flight
goaltenders in Schneider and the future Hall of Famer Brodeur, who
will likely end a run of 18 straight season-opening starts.

New Jersey got Schneider from Vancouver on June 30 in exchange
for a first-round pick. The 27-year-old netminder went 53-21-7 with
a 2.09 GAA in his last three seasons.

The 41-year-old Brodeur, who was 13-9-7 with a 2.22 GAA last
season, is expected to start Friday’s home opener against the
Islanders.

New acquisitions Jaromir Jagr – the NHL’s No. 8 all-time leading
scorer – Michael Ryder and Damien Brunner will try to help replace
at least some of Ilya Kovalchuk’s output.

The 30-year-old Kovalchuk, who played three-plus seasons in New
Jersey and amassed 417 career goals, made the shocking announcement
in July that he was walking away from the $77 million left on his
contract to play in his native Russia.

“I think they did the right thing – to move on,” Brodeur said.
“It was impressive to see how quickly the organization moved to
bring in a lot of new faces. It’s going to be an adjustment for
everyone. It’s going to be interesting to see how all the pieces of
the puzzle (general manager Lou Lamoriello) brought in fit and how
everything pans out.”

One of those new pieces, Schneider, will try to stop Crosby from
quickly building on a successful but injury-shortened season. The
former MVP finished third in the NHL with 56 points despite playing
just 36 of the season’s 48 games because of a broken jaw.

A concussion and a shoulder injury played a part in limiting
Malkin to nine goals – in 31 games – after he scored 50 and totaled
a league-best 109 points in his Hart Trophy-winning season of
2011-12.

The Penguins were outscored 9-4 in losing their final three
2012-13 matchups to New Jersey.