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Sunday, March 6, 2016

Game Preview: at New Jersey Devils - March 6, 2016

Pittsburgh Penguins (33-23-8; 4th Metro) at New Jersey Devils (31-28-7; 6th Metro)
March 6, 2016 @ 5:00 PM - Prudential Center
TV: Root Sports Pittsburgh

It was expected to be a rebuilding season for the New Jersey Devils under new GM Ray Shero, but the Devils have exceed expectations this season by remaining in the playoff picture this late in the season. In fact, the Devils were occupying a playoff spot as recently as February 17th before a recent stretch has seen the fall to 10th in the Eastern Conference. The Pittsburgh Penguins will look to continue that freefall down the standings, but on the second half of a back-to-back and playing their 5th game in 7 days it'll be interesting to see how much the Pens are able to overcome what have to be tired legs. It'll be the 3rd of 4 games between the teams this season, and the losing team has yet to score a goal - the Devils shutout the Pens 4-0 in November and the Pens shutout the Devils 2-0 in January.

The Devils' surprising season has certainly been made possible by the play of Cory Schneider. Schneider has become one of the best goaltenders in the league after patiently waiting to become the unquestioned starter, first in Vancouver behind Roberto Luongo then behind Martin Brodeur in his first season in New Jersey. And the Devils have certainly needed Schneider just to get to the point where they're at currently. With a 0.923 SV% and a 2.17 GAA, Schneider has been instrumental in helping the Devils rank 7th in the league with 2.39 goals against per game, but they've been mostly wasted contributions as New Jersey is dead last in scoring with 2.20 goals per game.

Unfortunately for the Devils, Schneider will miss the game with a lower body injury. It's a development the Penguins absolutely have to take advantage of, especially given that the opportunity they squandered yesterday in losing to the worst team in the Western Conference. Backup Keith Kinkaid will be in the net, and over his previous 14 GP this season he's posted a 0.910 SV% and 2.48 GAA - a solid step down from the All-Star netminder. Without Schneider, New Jersey's anemic offense comes even further under the spotlight. The Devils further weakened the offense at the trade deadline when they traded their leading scorer, Lee Stempniak, to the Boston Bruins in exchange for a 2017 2nd round pick and a 2016 4th rounder. The former Penguin deadline acquisition has now played for an astounding 6 teams over the past 3 seasons after being dealt at the deadline each of those 3 years.

The trade leaves the Devils with 4 players on their roster with 20 or more points on the season; the Penguins have 3 players with at least that many goals. Kyle Palmieri currently leads the Devils with 43 points (24g, 19a) through 66 games played in his first season in New Jersey after being acquired in the offseason for a 2nd and 3rd round draft choice. The former Anaheim Duck has already set career scoring highs across the board and has 16 more games to add to his totals. Right behind Palmieri is Adam Henrique with 23 goals and 19 assists. Now in his 5th season with the Devils, Henrique's career has been a bit of a disappointment after finishing 3rd in the Calder Trophy in 2011-12, but the center is on pace to finally best the 51 points he scored in that rookie campaign.


Penguins: Kevin Porter (ankle), Ben Lovejoy (upper body), Eric Fehr (lower body), Beau Bennett (undisclosed)

Devils: Cory Schneider (lower body), David Warsofsky (lower body), Mike Cammalleri (hand), Jiri Tlusty (wrist)


- Mike Sullivan scratched Justin Schultz yesterday as he was hesitant to make "change for the sake of change" with a lineup that had won 3 of 4 and outscored their opponents 16-5 during that stretch, but after losing to the worst scoring defense in the league yesterday it wouldn't be surprised to see some fresh legs in the lineup, especially given the hectic schedule of the past week.

- Conor Sheary has been recalled from Wilkes-Barre after missing the past 4 games with an upper-body injury

- A day after playing in his first career NHL game, the Penguins have demoted Josh Archibald back to Wilkes-Barre and recalled veteran Tom Sestito in his place.

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