Sports Network | January 20, 2011
(Sports Network) - The New Jersey Devils have played their best hockey of the season over the past week or so, but they will receive a stiff test when they host the rival Pittsburgh Penguins tonight at Prudential Center.
The Devils are currently on their longest point streak of the season, posting a 3-0-1 record over the last four games. Despite the surge, New Jersey is still last in the NHL with 29 points and the Devils are also 33 points behind second-place Pittsburgh in the Atlantic Division standings.
Pittsburgh is also coming into tonight's tilt on a hot streak, as the Penguins have won three in a row for the first time since Dec. 20-23.
The Pens, however, are dealing with some key injuries and will be without their top-two forwards tonight. Pittsburgh captain Sidney Crosby (concussion) will sit out a seventh straight game and the Penguins will also be without forward Evgeni Malkin, who played Tuesday against Detroit but will not make the trip to New Jersey due to an undisclosed injury.
Crosby is leading the NHL with 66 points, while Malkin is third on the team with 37 points.
The Devils won all six meetings with Pittsburgh last year, but has lost both matchups between the clubs in 2010-11. New Jersey has taken seven of 10 overall in the series and the Pens have dropped five of their last seven tests in the Garden State.
New Jersey bounced back from Saturday's overtime loss at Florida with Monday's decisive road victory over the New York Islanders. Mattias Tedenby and Rod Pelley each notched a goal and an assist to help lead the Devils to the 5-2 win at Nassau Coliseum.
Ilya Kovalchuk scored for the third time in three games for the Devils. He has three goals and five points over his last four games to bring his disappointing point total this season to 26 (13 goals, 13 assists).
"I'm going to tell you that he's more aware of his defensive game," said New Jersey head coach Jacques Lemaire about Kovalchuk. "He's playing better, shooting pucks, playing good. He's responsible defensively; he's getting to know that game, as well."
Vladimir Zharkov netted his first career NHL goal and Dainius Zubrus also found the net for New Jersey. Martin Brodeur made 27 saves in the victory, the first for the Devils in three meetings with the Islanders this season.
New Jersey is 7-13-2 as the home team this year and has lost eight of its last 11 in Newark.
Pittsburgh, meanwhile, has a solid 14-5-3 road record this year and will shoot for a third straight win away from the Steel City tonight.
The Penguins posted their most recent win on home ice, downing the Detroit Red Wings by a 4-1 count on Tuesday. Chris Conner's penalty-shot goal in the first period proved to be the game-winner.
"Obviously those chances (a penalty shot) don't come around too often, but I'm glad it went in," said Conner.