Previewing Pens @ Devils, Dec. 26

All I want for Christmas is a win.

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Pittsburgh Penguins vs. New Jersey Devils

Actually, scratch that — a good win.  A great win! … Now I’ve got it: All I want for Christmas is to see the Pens play a full 60 minutes of hockey.

As much as the Pens (18-12-4, 40 pts.) have underachieved lately, frustrating most of the fanbase, they are only one point behind the New Jersey Devils (19-10-3, 41 pts.) for third place in the Atlantic.  And, they are just five points behind Philadelphia and seven behind the Rangers.

However, this game features two teams that are experiencing very different Decembers.  The Devils are 7-2-1 this month and have yet to lose to a divisional opponent.

The Pens?  Well they are about as opposite of that as possible.  They have a December record of 4-6-1 and are 1-2-1 within the division — the lone win coming against the lowly Islanders.

Pittsburgh Penguins' Sidney Crosby (87) is shoved by New Jersey Devils' Zach Parise (9) in the second period during an NHL hockey game at Prudential Center in Newark, N.J. Wednesday, Dec. 10, 2008. The Devils defeated the Penguins 4-1. (AP Photo/Rich Schultz)
Pittsburgh Penguins' Sidney Crosby (87) is shoved by New Jersey Devils' Zach Parise (9) in the second period during an NHL hockey game at Prudential Center in Newark, N.J. Wednesday, Dec. 10, 2008. The Devils defeated the Penguins 4-1. (AP Photo/Rich Schultz)

The Devils and Pens played each other on Dec. 10, with NJ winning 4-1.  At that point, New Jersey trailed Pittsburgh by four points for second place in the Atlantic.

We wrote before that game about how important points are within the division because, at that point in time, the Pens had earned three of a possible four points against the Devils.  Well, the importance is still the same, but now more crucial.  Both teams have three points against each other in the season series and two more points tonight will go far in determining tiebreakers at the season’s end.

Therefore, as always is the case, Pittsburgh needs to get an early goal against these guys.  New Jersey has allowed the fewest goals (84) in the Eastern Conference — even without Martin Brodeur in net.

Boy would it be nice if Sidney Crosby could get back to his goal scoring ways tonight.  Since registering a hat trick against the Devils on Nov. 29, Crosby has just one goal in 11 games.

To do so he’ll have to find a way to crack New Jersey’s defense and its goaltender, Scott Clemmensen.  He is 11-4-1 since taking over for Brodeur and has a 2.22 GAA and .922 SV%.

On top of that Zach Parise and Patrik Elias have been lighting it up lately.  Parise has 40 pts. (18 G – 22 A) and Elias has 37 pts. (16 G – 21 A).  Both have five points in their last three games.

I got a DVD for Christmas about Sidney Crosby and the Penguins’ run to the Stanley Cup Finals last season.  It’s crazy how much chemistry there was just from that hour-and-a-half of viewing.

I don’t know what is the problem with these guys, but maybe it is a let down from last season.  I haven’t felt the same at games since the Finals.  After attending those games it’s just not the same.

I wonder if the team feels the same.  Who knows … it’s impossible to predict.

All I know is that after every extended break I find myself praying that the team will come back to game play and “get it.”

Maybe this will be it, maybe it won’t.  Whether the Pens win or lose might not be the biggest issue.  What will be is if they show intensity for 60 minutes.

Advantages:

Forwards: Penguins.  It’s going to be hard to ever find a team that has better forwards and scoring potential than the Pens.  Though Parise and Elias are on fire, they can’t match up to what the Penguins bring to the ice every night.

Defense: Devils.  Allowing the fewest goals in the Eastern Conference easily gives New Jersey the advantage, especially when you compare that to the lack of experience and direction on the Pens blue line.

Goaltending: Devils.  This is close however.  Marc-Andre Fleury looked good in net against Tampa Bay.  However, it’s tough to argue with Clemmensen’s production.

Special Teams:  Penguins.  Pittsburgh has a slightly better power play while both teams are in the middle of the pack on the penalty kill.

Prediction:

There’s no real way for me to pick the Pens in this one. Yes, they are rested and a bit healthier.  However, they make no sense and are facing a team that does.  So I’ll say Devils win 4-2 even though it pains me to do so.

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