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Pens Preview Game 36- Devils vs. Penguins: Devil In The Details

It’s Sudden Panic For The Pens.

Pittsburgh Penguins' Jake Guentzel vs. New Jersey Devils
Photo by Joe Sargent/NHLI via Getty Images

Things have gone from "worse" to absolute worst for the Penguins. Their season has completely fallen apart in dramatic fashion in the last 72 hours after skating through the majority of December on a high as one of the league's best teams.


In the last three days, the Pens have gone through this laundry list of calamities:

-The worst loss of the year to the Islanders where almost the entire team had a negative defensive impact.

-Lost Chad Ruhwedel to injury.

-Placed the injured Ryan Poehling & Josh Archibald on injured reserve.

-Sitting the only players with some spark: P.O. Joseph, Rickard Rakell, and Drew O'Connor on the bench for the majority of the game vs. Detroit in favor of completely incapable Brian Dumoulin and Jeff Carter.

-The actual worst loss of the year, blowing a 4-0 lead to the Red Wings.

-Lost Kris Letang to injury.


Performance woes, key injury issues, failures to adequately adjust player usage, and the refusal to remedy talent deficits with trades or other roster additions are colliding at one spectacular point to make a four-intersection pile-up for Pittsburgh.


In the wreckage when the smoke cleared they were left with the two worst performances of the season back-to-back. It was all punctuated by blowing a 4-0 first-period lead to the heavy underdog Detroit on Wednesday while losing Kris Letang in the process to a lower-body injury.


What's causing such a sudden shift in performance post-Christmas? Coach Sullivan attributes it to lacking the attention details in their game among other issues:

They'll get a chance to work on those details against a similarly struggling opponent tonight vs. the Devils. New Jersey has only won two of their last 10 games.


The catch is the Devils also have a group of dynamic star players who can break out of a slump in the blink of an eye and need to be handled as such. Jack Hughes, Nico Hischier, Jesper Bratt, and Dougie Hamilton aren't easy assignments no matter how they're playing of late.


It should make for another unpredictable and potentially difficult night for the Pens. And it's all happening while they contend with on-the-fly roster changes from their injuries. If nothing else it should make for exciting viewing.


The Penguins will want to close the year on a high point, especially as the next time they hit the ice will be on January 2nd for the NHL's marquee event, the Winter Classic, in Boston at Fenway Park. When all eyes in the hockey world will be on them.


GAME INFO

Pens Game #36: Penguins vs. Devils

Date: December 30, 2022

Time: 7 PM (ET)

Place: Pittsburgh, PA

Venue: PPG Paints Arena

Broadcasts: Local- ATTSN, National- ESPN+

Social Media Hashtags #: #LetsGoPens #NJDevils


TEAM MATCHUP

Records- PIT: 19-10-6, NJD: 22-11-2

Last 10- PIT: 6-2-2, NJD: 2-7-1

Streaks- PIT: 3 Losses, NJD: 2 Losses

Standings- PIT: 12th, NJD: 7th

Points- PIT: 44, NJD: 46

‘21/22 Season Series- 2-2 Tie

‘21/22 Series Goals For- PIT: 10, NJD: 14

Pittsburgh Penguins vs. New Jersey Devils
via NHL.com

GOALIE MATCHUP

Projected starting goalies:

-TRISTAN JARRY- #35

[Pittsburgh Penguins]

Bio Info: 6' 2", 194 lbs. DOB: 4/29/1995 (27). From: Surrey, BC

Drafted: 2013- Rd 2, Pk 44 (PIT). Experience: 7th Season

Record: 12-5-2, 2.39 GAA, .910 SV%

Career vs. NJD: 6-3-1, 2.93 GAA, .908 SV%

🆚

-VITEK VANECEK- #41

[New Jersey Devils]

Bio Info: 6' 0", 165 lbs. DOB: 1/9/1996 (26). From: Havlickuv Brod, Czechia

Drafted: 2014- Rd 2, Pk 39 (WSH). Experience: 3rd Season

Record: 15-4-4, 2.77 GAA, .918 SV%

Career vs. PIT: 3-1-3, 3.08 GAA, .900 SV%


PENGUINS UPDATE

-Kris Letang was confirmed out of tonight's game due to a lower-body injury in the game day press briefing. He was apparently injured in the Detroit game on this play while blocking a shot:

He stayed in the game and played two more periods afterward for a total of about 27 minutes ice time. Yes, he did that a month after returning from his second stroke. It raises some some serious questions about the Pens' medical staff's in-game decisions. Ryan Wilson at Hockey Buzz tackled those an excellent read way back in 2017 that's worth another look right now. It's a trend that's been an issue since at least 2011 when Sidney Crosby returned to the Winter Classic after a concussive hit from David Steckel and subsequently missed the majority of the next two seasons from complications and re-injury due to it. This issue needs to be explored for mere practical reasons as the Penguins are simply running out of players at this point.


-Ryan Poehling practiced yesterday and is a game-time decision for tonight.


-Losing Letang and Ruhwedel simultaneously means that Ty Smith will make his long-awaited Penguins debut and against the team that traded him away, the New Jersey Devils. Smith hasn't been on a tear in the minor leagues since moving into the Pens system, however. He has four goals, 10 assists, in 26 games played but has settled into a very streaky scoring pattern since late October. Perhaps due to a lack of motivation when a quick call-up to Pittsburgh never came?


-Smith will quarterback one of the Pens' powerplay units if yesterday's practice was any indication. He has three power-play goals in the AHL this season.


-And the addition of Smith along with losing Kris Letang means we could possibly see three brand new defensive lines at once on Friday. The Penguins will need to address the hole in the top pairing and there's not a clear natural favored pairing to take up those duties given Brian Dumoulin and Jan Rutta's recent struggles in performance. The positional make-up of the remaining defense being primarily left-side specialists also complicates matters. The D-men rotated in practice Wednesday and today's game day skate was optional so the roster will only be revealed right before puck drop.

-Injury Report-

-Josh Archibald (F): lower body, day-to-day.

-Kris Letang (D): lower body, undisclosed.

-Ryan Poehling (F): upper body, game time decision.

-Jeff Petry (D): IR, upper body, out until January.

-Chad Ruhwedel (D): upper body, undisclosed.


-Pens Lines-

The projected Penguins lines for Friday, December 30 vs. the New Jersey Devils:


(Forwards)

Jake Guentzel - Sidney Crosby - Rickard Rakell

Jason Zucker - Evgeni Malkin - Bryan Rust

Brock McGinn - Jeff Carter - Danton Heinen

Drew O’Connor - Teddy Blueger - Kasperi Kapanen


(Defense)

Rotated


(Special Teams)

PP1: Malkin, Crosby, Guentzel, Rakell, Rust

PP2: Carter, Kapanen, Joseph, Zucker, Smith

PKs TBD


DEVILS UPDATE

-Former Pen John Marino will not make his return to the Pittsburgh ice tonight. He's out with an injury until January. We'll have a chance to see him on January 22nd in New Jersey though.


-Jersey might be on a low note right now, but this is still the team that went 13-0 and a month in between losses earlier this season back in October and November.


-Offseason Update-

Key players added: Forward- Ondrej Palat. Defensemen- John Marino (from PIT), Brendan Smith, Simon Nemec. Goalie- Vitek Vanecek.

Key players lost: Forward- Pavel Zacha, Defensemen- Ty Smith (to PIT), P.K. Subban.


-Injury Report-

-Nathan Bastian (F): IR, upper body, out until 1/1.

-Jonathan Bernier (G): LTIR, hip surgery, out indefinitely.

-Ryan Graves (D): lower body, out until 12/28.

-John Marino (D): upper body, out until 1/1.

-Ondrej Palat (F): IR, groin, day-to-day.


DIMERS.COM ONES TO WATCH

For The Pens: Pierre-Olivier Joseph. While the rest of the team has no-showed the last two games, rookie P.O. Joseph has stepped it up majorly. He scored his third career goal vs. the Islanders. Joseph has been a +1 in both trouble games despite the high goals-against in each. And he led the Pens in gamescore for the New York outing at .34 and registered the second-highest gamescore for the Detroit game at 2.28. P.O. is proving he's the real deal in the Penguins' toughest moments of the season.


For The Devils: Jesper Bratt. The obvious choice for this pick from recent performance is Jack Hughes, but I'm zagging on him to name a player I always watch on New Jersey: Jesper Bratt. At only 24, Bratt is already trending towards becoming a dreaded "Pens killer" player. He has 14 points in 19 career games played vs. Pittsburgh. The only teams Bratt has scored more against in his six-year career are Buffalo and Philadelphia. Given the major variance in quality of those franchises that's a big statement on just how good he is against the Pens.


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