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.