Devils aim to continue mastery of Penguins

Coming off a long, ugly road trip, the New Jersey Devils must be hoping that a return Tuesday to the Prudential Center to host the Pittsburgh Penguins is a case of Home, Sweet Home.

The Devils (6-8-1) have not skated on home ice since a 3-2 victory over the Florida Panthers on Oct. 27. Over the following two weeks, the Devils played seven games on the road, losing six. They allowed 33 goals in those six defeats, sinking to the cellar of the Metropolitan Division.

“You gotta power through it,” Devils center Brian Boyle told nj.com. “You gotta will it to happen, expect good things, be positive. It’s difficult right this minute, but it’s a new day tomorrow.”

To make matters worse, the Devils may have lost one of their key players in Sunday’s trip-ending 5-2 loss to the Jets in Winnipeg. Center Nico Hischier, who is second on the club with nine assists and third with 12 points, departed in the second period with an upper body injury. Since the Devils did not practice Monday, there was no update on Hischier’s condition.

Also in question is who the starting goaltender will be against the Penguins. Cory Schneider allowed five goals on 28 shots Sunday and has lost all three of his starts since being activated off injured reserve following offseason hip surgery. Schneider has a 4.81 GAA, .849 save percentage and is without a victory since Dec. 27, 2017, losing 13 decisions in a row.

Keith Kinkaid carried the Devils to the playoffs in the second half of last season and started strong this year. However, he lost three of his last four starts, surrendering 15 goals in the defeats.

Kinkaid did backstop New Jersey’s most recent win, however, a 5-1 victory over the Penguins on Nov. 5 in Pittsburgh.

“We believe in our goaltending,” Devils winger Taylor Hall told reporters Sunday. “It’s, I guess, the way hockey goes sometimes. No one’s going to feel sorry for us. We’re the only ones in here that can do anything about it.”

The Penguins (7-5-3) know a thing or two about struggling, as well. That loss to the Devils last week was one of five straight for the Penguins, who finally broke through with a 4-0 victory over the Arizona Coyotes on Saturday night.

Pittsburgh goaltender Casey DeSmith stopped all 39 shots he faced to earn his second shutout of the season, and third in only 17 career starts.

“As long as I keep playing well and keep playing my game and getting results, confidence just keeps building,” DeSmith told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. “I happen to have some confidence right now.”

Whether DeSmith is back in the net Tuesday for a third consecutive start is unknown. Matt Murray remains Pittsburgh’s No. 1 goaltender, though he is only 3-3-1 with a 3.81 GAA and .886 save percentage, so far this season.

“We’ve got two capable goalies at this point,” Penguins coach Mike Sullivan told reporters. “By no means do we discount Matt’s contributions here.”

Sidney Crosby scored for the second straight game on Saturday. He has eight goals in his last nine games. Patric Hornqvist also scored against the Coyotes, his first goal in seven games.

“I’m thrilled for the players,” Sullivan said after Saturday’s victory. “This is a proud group and we have high expectations for one another.”

Including the 5-1 victory last week, the Devils won four of their last five meetings with the Penguins, with their only defeat coming in overtime last March. New Jersey’s Brian Boyle had his first career hat trick in the lone game against Pittsburgh this season, and Kinkaid made 35 saves the same night.

“We want to create our own luck out there,” said Kinkaid. “We want to just keep the pressure on, which we were able to do (in the win over Pittsburgh).”