Tonight marks the final game of 2022 for the New Jersey Devils, as they travel to the Steel City to take on their Metropolitan Division foes in the Pittsburgh Penguins at 7:00 pm. The Devils are 22-11-2, good enough for 46 points and second in the division. They are six points behind the streaking Carolina Hurricanes. Pittsburgh has a record of 19-10-6, and their 44 points are eight behind the Hurricanes.
The Devils of December have not been the same team that dominated the NHL through the first quarter of the season. They have lost eight of their last nine and are coming off back-to-back defeats at the hands of the Boston Bruins, the league’s best team. On Dec. 28, the Devils played the Bruins tough but gave up a late third-period goal and lost 3-1. Nico Hischier scored the lone goal for the Red and Black as the captain beat Linus Ullmark from a sharp angle. It was his 14th of the season, which is second on the Devils.
Vitek Vanecek was strong in net, stopping 24 of 26 shots, but he was out-dueled by Ullmark, who moved to 20-1-1 on the year. “It’s frustrating,” Erik Haula said after the loss. “We’re making mistakes, and we’ve got to get better.”
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The tough stretch does not stop in Pittsburgh as the Devils open 2023 with a battle against the first-place Hurricanes at Prudential Center on New Year’s Day. They will also play a back-to-back against the Detroit Red Wings and St. Louis Blues before their third meeting of the season against the New York Rangers.
The Devils Projected Lines:
Tomas Tatar – Nico Hischier – Jesper Bratt
Erik Haula – Jack Hughes – Dawson Mercer
Yegor Sharangovich – Jesper Boqvist – Alexander Holtz
Miles Wood – Michael McLeod – Fabian Zetterlund
Jonas Siegenthaler – Dougie Hamilton
Kevin Bahl – Damon Severson
Nikita Okhotiuk – Brendan Smith
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The Penguins Projected Lines:
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
Marcus Petterson – Ty Smith
Brian Dumoulin – Jan Ruuta
Pierre-Olivier Joseph – Mark Friedman
What’s Happening in Pittsburgh
Much like the Devils, the Penguins have also sputtered of late, losing four of their last five. However, arguably their toughest defeat of the season came on Dec. 28 against the Red Wings, losing 5-4 in overtime. The Penguins were up 4-0 at home before giving up five unanswered goals to the Wings, culminating in a Jake Walman winner.
Head coach Mike Sullivan was understandably disappointed following the defeat. “We didn’t play the game the right way. We didn’t manage the game. We didn’t manage the puck,” he said. “For whatever reason, the last few games, we’re disconnected. And that’s our challenge, is to fix it.” Longtime Penguin Evgeni Malkin also spoke on the game, saying that the Penguins “have a lot of experience in here. The whole team, we’re not young. We understand we need to play right, all game.”
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Pittsburgh will have the eyes of the hockey world on them on Jan. 2 when they travel up to Boston to take on the Bruins in the 2023 NHL Winter Classic at Fenway Park. Their road trip will continue against the Vegas Golden Knights on Jan. 5 before taking on the Arizona Coyotes on Jan. 8. The team still runs through Sidney Crosby, who is once again putting up Hart-caliber numbers, with 43 points in 35 games, tied with Colorado Avalanche, Mikko Rantanen for ninth in the NHL. Unfortunately, the Penguins will be without their star defenseman Kris Letang, who is out with a lower-body injury for tonight’s game.
Keep an Eye On:
New Jersey Devils: Yegor Sharangovich
Yegor Sharangovich has had an up-and-down season, but the past few games have been mostly ups for the Belarusian. He has two goals in his past three games, a tip-in on Dec. 21 against the Florida Panthers and one off the rebound on Dec. 23 versus the Bruins. Those two goals resulted in increased ice time on Dec. 28, and while he could not continue his goal streak, he played more than 15 minutes against the NHL’s best.
Off the ice, he enjoyed his time as “Santagovich,” gifting various items to his Devils teammates and showing his lighter side. After spending some time on the fourth line, his strong play has resulted in a promotion to the third line. Sharangovich can be streaky, but when he is on, he could be one of the Devils’ strongest players.
Pittsburgh Penguins: Jason Zucker
After his name surfaced in trade rumors over the past few seasons, Jason Zucker has bounced back in a big way. In 31 games with the Penguins, he has 23 points, tied for fourth on the team. He also has eight goals, two of which came in the overtime loss to the Red Wings. That ended a seven-game goalless drought for the 30-year-old winger. Zucker has found a comfortable spot on the second line alongside Bryan Rust and Evgeni Malkin. While both have had their success in the past against the Devils, Zucker might be the one left open to do damage against the Red and Black.
Where to Watch:
The important battle between the Devils and Penguins will be shown on MSGSN, with Bill Spaulding and Ken Daneyko on commentary. The Devils Hockey Network will take the game as well, with Jason Shaya and Chico Resch calling the action for radio listeners.