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Who: Pittsburgh Penguins (10-6-2, 22 points, 4th place Metropolitan Division) @ New Jersey Devils (5-8-4, 14 points, 8th place Metro Division)

When: 7:00 p.m. eastern

How to Watch: AT&T Sportsnet in the Pittsburgh viewing area, MSG+ in the New York/New Jersey area, ESPN+ (if you have a Disney-plus subscription, I think you have this!), Sportsnet in Canada

Opponent Track: The Devils have lost three of their last four games, including dropping their last game to Ottawa 4-2 (ouch). Overall in the month of November they have a 3-3-1 record. They also have to play tomorrow @Montreal, so this is the first game of a back-to-back for them.

Pens path ahead: The Pens also have a back-to-back that starts tonight, they jet back home quickly to meet Toronto at PPG tomorrow night. Next week’s schedule is a somewhat unorthodox Tuesday-Thursday-Friday 3-in-4 game jaunt for the Pens sandwiching home games (NYI on Tues, NJD again on Friday) around one road game (@NYI on Thursday)….So get used to NJ and NYI, other than the Toronto game four of the next five Pens games are against one of those two teams.

Season Series: As mentioned above, the Devils make their first visit to Pittsburgh of the season a week from today. Then per weird NHL scheduling they don’t see each other again until all the way on March 10th (@NJ) and then have one more game March 31st (@PIT) to wrap up the season series.

Recent history: NJ always seems like one of the biggest thorns in the Pens’ side every year, even when they’re not really that good they always seem to frustrate against Pittsburgh. The Pens are just 2-5-1 in the last two seasons against NJ. But, if you’re trying to stay positive, the Pens have performed pretty well AT the Prudential Center, going 5-2-0 in the last seven games in Jersey.

SBN Team Counterpart: All About the Jersey has you covered for all the NJD news and notes. They also have one of the better game previews around our network, so check that out as well for the opposition perspective.

Tale of the Tape

—The Devils have the mark of a team in last place: very bad goaltending and both special teams, don’t score much and get scored on a ton. Pick an area and it’s probably bad. They are pretty good shooters when they do get shots, but they don’t get nearly enough offensive opportunities to put pucks on the net. They do however, manage to suppress shots against at 5v5 pretty well, but it doesn’t much matter when you can’t get a save.

—As often harped on, you really can’t say enough good things about the Pens’ PK unit really putting up a Superman-esque performance these days while the power play flounders. And, it’s probably going to have to continue because no 87, 58 or 72 means more woes and uneven play ahead from a power play unit without a ton of skill right now compared to usual.

Player Stats at a Glance
via hockeydb:

—A lot of “ok” players, but few “ok, pretty good” types of players. A few of the veterans have been letdowns- P.K. Subban with only two goals and five points this deep into the season has to be a disappointment. Travis Zajac at one goal and four points looks like a far cry from a reliable 45ish point scorer (let alone the 60+ on he was a decade ago in his prime). Surprisingly enough, one vet many didn’t know how good he would play this season in Wayne Simmonds has generally fine looking boxcars relative to the rest of the team. Still gonna be weird seeing him in a Jersey jersey though.

—That goaltending is very bad too. Mackenzie Blackwood is kind of their young Tristan Jarry-esque type of goalie prospect whose old enough to play in the NHL but he hasn’t fared well. Cory Schneider was above-average to very good up until the end of the 2015-16 season, and then has been downright awful ever since and that doesn’t look like it’s going to change.

—No. 1 overall pick Jack Hughes has four points (2g+2a) in seven games in the month of November which is still a bit modest, but considering he started his NHL career with just one assist in his first seven games, he’s getting it going in the right direction at least.

Possible Lines (based on Thursday practice)
Taylor Hall – Jack Hughes – Kyle Palmieri

Jesper Boqvist – Nico Hischier – Jesper Bratt

Blake Coleman – Travis Zajac – Nikita Gusev

Miles Wood – Pavel Zacha – Wayne Simmonds

Will Butcher / P.K. Subban

Andy Greene / Damon Severson

Mirco Mueller / Matt Tennyson

Starting goalie: Mackenzie Blackwood

Expected scratches: John Hayden, Miles Wood, Sami Vatanen (injured), Wayne Kevin Rooney (injured)

Injured reserve: Connor Carrick

—Palmieri is one of those really annoying Penguin killers that always scores against Pittsburgh. And I’m pretty sure he’s in the process of transferring this super-power to Coleman as well.

—AaTJ is annoyed that Zacha recently got demoted:

It annoys me very greatly to see Pavel Zacha, who has been very good this season, still get relegated to the fourth line. Meanwhile, Zacha’s +3.5 relative Corsi For percentage is sixth best on the team – only behind Kyle Palmieri, Nico Hischier, and Wayne Simmonds among forwards in that regard. It may end up making a legitimately good fourth line, as it has both Zacha and Simmonds on it, who have been pretty strong in possession this season. Nonetheless, it is probably a waste of Zacha’s talent.

Devs’ fans boo their team away after Ottawa loss
After losing at home on Wednesday 4-2 to lowly Ottawa, a frustrated fan base gave it to the Devils, and they know they deserve it after a bad effort. From NorthJersey.com:

Fans were chanting “Fire Hynes” by the time Pageau completed his hat trick with an empty-netter 30 seconds left in regulation.

They want change and they want it now.

So, what can the Devils do? Well, it’s highly unlikely they’ll replace Hynes. And even if they did, an entirely new system isn’t going to be implemented overnight. With so much roster turnover, the learning curve was steep enough already. Trying to get a team to start from square one would set them back even further.

At some point, it becomes about the talent, not the system. And right now, the Devils are severely lacking in blue line talent, especially with Sami Vatanen and Connor Carrick both injured.

Shoring up the back end of a thin crew has been tough. Tennyson hasn’t been the answer. There are no answers in their American Hockey League talent pool in Binghamton either. Ty Smith is in junior, but he’s not the answer right now either, though he may be next season.

It was around this time two years ago that general manager Ray Shero traded for Vatanen. Rest assured, he’s sitting idly by doing nothing, but getting a shutdown defenseman is not an easy task, nor a cheap one.

NJ has only won 2 out of 9 home games this year. They’re in last place in the conference. The fans really don’t like the coach (former WB/S head coach John Hynes). Lots of turmoil. The Pens need to develop and show a killer instinct in this situation to give another blow to an opponent that is reeling.

And now for the Pens..
Check the game notes, eh bud?
Infographic courtesy of the Penguins:

Potential Lines (Based on practice)
Jake Guentzel – Evgeni Malkin – Bryan Rust

Alex Galchenyuk – Nick Bjugstad -Sam Lafferty

Dominik Simon- Jared McCann – Dominik Kahun

Zach Aston-Reese – Teddy Blueger – Brandon Tanev

Brian Dumoulin/ John Marino

Marcus Pettersson / Justin Schultz

Jack Johnson / Juuso Riikola

Expected scratches: Chad Ruhwedel (healthy)

Injured: Patric Hornqvist (lower body, IR), Sidney Crosby (hernia surgery), Kris Letang (lower body injury)

—The lines ended up being a bit of a mess after the Galchenyuk-McCann-Guentzel idea went down in flames for one game at least. We’ll see if they have new ideas or go back to the blender, other than Malkin+Rust and then the 4th line, pretty much everything else could be up for shuffling around.

He is fire
It’s all eyes on Evgeni Malkin now, who improvised a bit when a fire alarm went off during his media availability yesterday.

Pittsburgh Penguins

@penguins
· Nov 15, 2019
Adapt, adjust, then overcome. https://twitter.com/PensInsideScoop/status/1195088708464250880 …

Pens Inside Scoop

@PensInsideScoop
An alarm started going off as we were talking to Evgeni Malkin about stepping up without Sidney Crosby.

“I need to be fire,” he said with a laugh. “I will be fire.”

Geno =

-MC

Pittsburgh Penguins

@penguins
“I will be fire.”

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Per Pens PR:

After returning from an 11-game absence on November 2, Evgeni Malkin is starting to hit his stride. Malkin currently has points in four-consecutive games (1G-5A), and has figured in on five of Pittsburgh’s last seven goals.

In 56 career games against the Devils, Malkin has 53 points (21G-32A). He is currently riding a three-game point streak against New Jersey (3A), and has four goals and seven points in his last six trips to the Prudential Center. Only teammate Sidney Crosby (72 points in 65 games) and Washington’s Alex Ovechkin (58 points in 53 games) have more points than Malkin against the Devils among all active players.

With Crosby sidelined after undergoing successful surgery on Thursday, the Penguins will look to Malkin to take charge and lead by example. In 121 career games without Crosby, Malkin has 66 goals, 95 assists and 161 points.

Malkin figuring into five of the team’s last seven goals could be seen as both a good and bad development. Good, because Malkin is performing well and definitely back to 100% after his injury. Bad because, well, in the past three games there’s only been a handful of goals that No. 71 hasn’t pretty much been directly responsible for creating a scoring chance.

It would be nice for Galchenyuk (no goals all season in 9 games), Guentzel (1g+0a in last 5 games), Nick Bjugstad (1g+0a in last 7 games since returning from injury) to step up and help chip in on the scoreboard as they should be expected to. The Devils have been very generous at giving up goals so far this season, so we’ll see if that level of player can find the scoreboard tonight.

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