Devils hope to cool off hot Penguins (Dec 27, 2016)
The three-day Christmas holiday break in the past, the Pittsburgh Penguins and New Jersey Devils return to action Tuesday night at the Prudential Center to finish a home-and-home set that began with a 4-1 Penguins win in Pittsburgh last Friday.
That victory helped the Penguins (22-8-5) continue their impressive month of December. Pittsburgh has recorded at least one point in all but one of the 12 games it has played this month. The Penguins are 9-1-2 in December, a record that includes a season-high seven-game winning streak from Dec. 1-Dec. 14.
On the other side, Friday's result saw the Devils (13-14-7) continue their struggles this month. New Jersey, which had snapped a seven-game losing skid with a 4-0 home-ice win over the Philadelphia Flyers last Thursday, is just 3-7-2 in December.
"Sometimes it's good to get a mental break," Devils goaltender Cory Schneider said of the break in the schedule. "You can't forget about how it's been going or how we can do better; but I think it's also a good opportunity to take a step back, take a breath and assess where you are at, re-evaluate yourself individually, and hopefully come back with renewed energy and optimism."
This will be the third of five meetings this season between the Penguins and Devils, with Pittsburgh having won each of the first two. Last Friday, the Penguins never trailed after Sidney Crosby scored a power play goal eleven minutes into the contest. Four Penguins scored and eight notched at least one point, led by Evgeni Malkin who had a pair of assists.
Those two points recorded by Malkin give him 39 on the season, second most in the NHL. He also enters play Tuesday sitting one shy of 800 career points.
Since Crosby's return from a concussion at the start of the season, he and Malkin have energized Pittsburgh's attack. Crosby leads the NHL with 24 goals, and is third in scoring with 38 points, all in just 29 games played.
"He's the best player in the game," The Great One, Wayne Gretzky, said about Crosby on NHL Network Radio. "He is such a great passer that teams are playing him to make the pass first. However, he is so smart, and such a great goal scorer, too, that now he is finding lanes and opportunities to shoot first, and is scoring more as a result."
The day after Christmas, the Penguins announced a three-year contract extension for head coach Mike Sullivan, who has guided Pittsburgh to a 54-24-11 regular season record, and the 2016 Stanley Cup championship, since being named coach Dec. 12, 2015.
"Mike did the best coaching job in the NHL last season," Pittsburgh general manager Jim Rutherford said in a statement. "He continues to be a terrific coach and we are happy to give him a well-deserved extension."
Meanwhile, Devils head coach John Hynes is desperately trying to build on some recent positives, all in the name of his club turning things around. Certainly, the passionate effort, and shutout result, last Thursday against the Flyers is a good place to start; and the Devils gave a strong effort the next night, despite the loss in Pittsburgh.
With so many of New Jersey's top offensive players struggling to produce, it's also been a good sign to see Kyle Palmieri awaken from his goal-scoring drought. After scoring a career-high 30 goals last season, Palmieri has just six this year, though he has scored in back-to-back games following a stretch in which he tallied just one goal in 16 games.
"It's good to see him get going again," Adam Henrique said of his teammate Palmieri. "He's an important part of this team, and we need him to score goals for us, though he's not the only one. We all need to pick it up on offense."