On Tuesday night (Nov. 14), the Pittsburgh Penguins visited the Columbus Blue Jackets looking for stability against a conference foe. After defeating the Blue Jackets 5-3, they now find themselves to be one of the two hottest teams in the NHL, with only them and the Florida Panthers riding a five-game winning streak.
Now 8-6-0, tonight (Nov. 16), the Penguins host the 7-6-1 New Jersey Devils, a team that was expected to be among the Eastern Conference leaders this season. However, they have had their own challenges out the gate, including the early loss of star center Jack Hughes for several games after he started white hot with an NHL-leading (at the time) 20 points through 10 games. They are coming off a 6-3 loss to the Winnipeg Jets on Tuesday and have dropped their last three games.
With Hughes out of the lineup, the Devils will look to tame a Penguins team that appears to have found a formula that suits them. Sidney Crosby and Erik Karlsson are now both comfortable and riding scoring streaks, and it looks to be full speed ahead in their quest to return to the Stanley Cup playoffs this season.
Setting the Stage: Lineups, Injuries & Stats
The afternoon before the Blue Jackets game, the Penguins recalled forward Jonathan Gruden from Wilkes-Barre of the American Hockey League (AHL). He has yet to see any action with the Penguins. Jeff Carter is still listed as OUT, now with a lower-body injury. Evgeni Malkin did not practice Wednesday due to an undisclosed illness.
Latest News & Highlights
For the Devils, they officially placed Nico Hischier, who last played against the Buffalo Sabres on Oct. 27, on injured reserve. They activated defenseman Colin Miller from injured reserve. Miller has yet to play this season. Center Jack Hughes is reportedly getting ready to return to the lineup as early as Friday, Nov. 17.
- Penguins: Will Butcher (undisclosed, the Penguins placed Butcher on injured reserve), Jeff Carter (lower body), John Ludvig (concussion, the Penguins placed Ludvig on injured reserve), Alex Nedeljkovic (lower body, the Penguins placed Nedeljkovic on injured reserve), Mark Pysyk (lower body, the Penguins placed Pysyk on injured reserve)
- Devils: Nico Daws (hip, the Devils placed Daws on injured reserve), Nolan Foote (upper body, the Devils placed Foote on injured reserve), Brian Halonen (lower body, the Devils placed Halonen on injured reserve), Nico Hischier (upper body, the Devils placed Hishier on injured reserve), Jack Hughes (Hughes could return as early as Thursday (Nov. 17) according to Emily Kaplan of ESPN)
Interesting Stats and Facts
- Crosby has been staring down Father Time and winning as of late. The Penguins captain scored a hat trick and added an assist against the Blue Jackets, raising his totals to seven goals and 14 points through his nine-game scoring streak. He has been held off the scoresheet only once this season and has 10 goals and 19 points in 14 games. Against the Devils, he has 39 goals and 88 points in 82 games.
- The other two members of Crosby’s line, Bryan Rust and Jake Guentzel, have been contributing consistently. Rust has not been held pointless in consecutive games this season and has 13 points in 14 games, while Guentzel picked up a goal and an assist against the Blue Jackets, extending his current streak to nine points in five games and giving him 18 points in 14 games.
- Karlsson continues his recent hot streak. With a goal and an assist versus the Blue Jackets, he has three goals in two games and is riding a six-game streak with four goals and 11 points.
- For the Devils, Jesper Bratt may have cooled with the absence of Hughes, but with 20 points in 14 games, he remains a threat.
- Tyler Toffoli is another Devil who misses Hughes, but with eight goals and 14 points in 14 games, he could cause the Penguins problems.
- Now apparently fully healthy, Tristan Jarry was strong against the Blue Jackets. He now is 6-5-0 with a 2.31 goals-against average (GAA) and a .918 save percentage (SV%) to go along with his NHL-leading three shutouts. Against the Devils, however, he is 6-5-2 with a 3.03 GAA and a .904 SV%.
- For the Devils, Vítek Vaněček has done what he can. At 6-3-0 with a 3.45 GAA and a .887 SV%, he has done what he can to keep the team in games. Akira Schmid has performed similarly, with a 3.46 GAA and a .885 SV%.
Penguins vs. Devils Storylines
The Penguins are cooking now with four players over a point-per-game pace, with Crosby, Guentzel, Malkin, and Karlsson all scoring well. Both Rust and Reilly Smith are contributing offensively, and only Rickard Rakell is struggling among the top six forwards. One person pushed out of the headlines this season has been Kris Letang, who is quietly turning in a solid season as a stabilizing influence on the blue line.
For the Devils, they have been a bit dinged up lately, and if they can get both Hughes and Hischier back, they will be a force. But in the meantime, Timo Meier hasn’t exactly lit things up. He does have five goals and 11 points through 14 games, but his minus-12 rating ranks among the worst in the NHL, especially outside of anyone on the San Jose Sharks. The normally responsible winger will need to be on his toes against the Penguins.
This is the first of three meetings between the two teams, though they won’t play again until March. After tonight, the Devils will host the New York Rangers on Saturday (Nov. 18), and the Penguins will play the Carolina Hurricanes at home on Saturday. Puck drops tonight at 7:00 PM EST.