Devils-Penguins Preview

Associated Press  |  Last updated October 21, 2011
It's uncertain when Sidney Crosby will return, but the Pittsburgh Penguins are starting to get healthy. They may need all the help they can get against a New Jersey Devils club off to its best start in three seasons. With Evgeni Malkin possibly returning from injury and defenseman Kris Letang back following a two-game suspension, the Penguins go for a third straight victory Saturday night against visiting New Jersey as these Atlantic Division rivals meet for the first time in 2011-12. While Crosby has been practicing with the Penguins and has been cleared for contact, it remains anyone's guess when the 2007 MVP will return from the concussion like-symptoms that have kept him out of action since Jan. 5. Malkin has been sidelined the past four games with lingering soreness in his surgically repaired knee, but he looked strong in Friday's practice. "(Friday) was his first one back in full practice, so that's a good sign," coach Dan Bylsma told the Penguins' official website. "He's doing pretty well and we are still seeing about (Saturday)." Defenseman Brooks Orpik (hernia surgery) and reserve center Dustin Jeffrey (ACL surgery) should also be good to go after both made their season debuts in Thursday's 3-1 win over Montreal, and Letang - among the league leaders with six assists - is eligible to return Saturday after serving a suspension for a boarding penalty during Monday's 2-1 loss at Winnipeg. The Penguins (5-2-2) begin divisional play with the first of six meetings against New Jersey. Pittsburgh went 4-1-1 last season - winning all three of its home games - after the Devils swept the season series in 2009-10, en route to their second straight Atlantic title. Unlike last season, when New Jersey (3-1-1) stumbled into its first game in Pittsburgh - a 2-1 loss Dec. 6 - with an 8-16-2 record, the Devils arrive at Consol Energy Center with high expectations. They're off to their best start since opening 5-1-0 in 2008-09. However, New Jersey saw its three-game winning streak snapped Friday with a 4-3 shootout loss to San Jose. "We didn't play as well as we had been playing, and it showed," said captain Zach Parise, who scored in regulation on a penalty shot. "It wasn't our best effort, especially around the net and it cost us." Backup goalie Johan Hedberg yielded the equalizer Friday with 32.4 seconds left in regulation and was beaten twice in the tiebreaker, but with Martin Brodeur out with a right shoulder injury, he'll likely make his third consecutive start as the Devils open a four-game road trip. Hedberg, who went 46-57-12 with a 2.88 goals-against average for the Penguins from 2000-03, is 0-3-1 with a 3.98 GAA in four games visiting Pittsburgh. Penguins goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury, who avoided a third straight loss Thursday by turning aside 27 shots, went 3-0-0 with a 0.97 GAA in three starts versus New Jersey last season. Even if the Devils get power-play chances against Fleury or backup Brent Johnson, converting could be a challenge. New Jersey is 3 for 21 with the man advantage, while Pittsburgh's penalty kill is No. 1 in the NHL at 96.8 percent. Penguins forward James Neal, who had an assist the last time these teams met - a 4-2 Penguins home win April 5 - looks to continue his scoring tear after recording seven goals in the season's first nine games. "Things are going good, I'm feeling good, the team's rolling,'' Neal said. "You keep doing the right things, hopefully they'll keep coming.''
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