Devils plan to pad winning streak at Igloo
The New Jersey Devils likely will be sorry to see Mellon Arena's demise.
A win tonight would mark the Devils 12th in 18 games at the Igloo since Penguins captain Sidney Crosby started calling the place home five years ago.
Of more concern to Crosby - at least, it should be - is the considerable advantage in a potential NHL tiebreaker that the Devils could gain with a third straight road victory this season over the Penguins.
"It's early," Penguins center Jordan Staal said, "but it's a pretty big game."
Potentially this contest could prove pivotal for playoff seeding.
These white-hot clubs are tied atop the Atlantic Division with 51 points apiece, though the Devils are technically in first place because they have played two fewer games.
When all games have been played come April, ties among teams with equal point totals will be broken first by wins; second by points earned between clubs; and third by overall goal-differential.
On the strength of two 4-1 road victories over the Penguins (Oct. 24 and Nov. 12), the Devils are plus-4 in series points.
Goal differential is close, with the Devils at plus-27 and Penguins at plus-25 - an interesting comparison given that as of Sunday the Devils were third in goals allowed and the Penguins rated fifth in goals scored.
"Each team knows how it wants to play, and plays that way most nights," said Penguins forward Mike Rupp, who previously played for the Devils. "You've got to respect that."
Given the way each club is racking up points - and their respective recent histories for sizzling finishes - a tiebreaker might not only determine the Atlantic Division champion but also home-ice advantage until the Stanley Cup Final.
Both teams and Washington have been taking turns holding the East's top spot over the past four weeks. The Penguins, Devils and Capitals rate second, third and first the past two seasons in average second-half points earned among conference clubs.
However, division winners earn the top three playoff seeds, making a second-round showdown between the Penguins and Devils as a 2-4 matchup a distinct possibility if the Capitals claim the No. 1 seed. An Eastern Conference semifinal series between No. 2 and No. 4 seeds has occurred in two of the past four postseasons, including last spring between the Capitals and Penguins.
These Penguins have won five in a row, six of eight in December and are 13-2-1 since losing four straight in mid-November.
Their power play has converted 15.1 percent of its opportunities during that span, though they did most of their damage by going 4 for 15 in three games before a 0 for 5 effort in a shootout win Saturday night at Buffalo.
The Penguins are 0 for 7 on the power play against the Devils, who are an NHL-best 12-2-1 on the road by allowing only eight power-play goals.
Again an exemplary neutral-zone trap team under coach Jacques Lemaire, whose defensive teachings steered the Devils to a Cup win in 1995, New Jersey has won four straight - including a victory Saturday night at Atlanta notable because legendary goalie Martin Brodeur was pulled after allowing three goals on six shots.
The Penguins can't count on a repeat performance from Brodeur, who has returned to Vezina Trophy-form (first in wins and fifth in goals-against average) after an injury-played last season.
The Devils are on a 17-4-1 stretch during which they have gone 8-1-1 in games decided by a goal.
If that is the victor's margin tonight, chances are the Devils will have won. They are undefeated in eight one-goal road games since 2005 against the Penguins, whose average margin of victory in six wins is about four goals.Additional Information:
Burned at the Igloo
The New Jersey Devils are 11-6-0 at Mellon Arena over the past five seasons, including 2-0-0 this year. A breakdown of their success:
• Average margin of victory: 1.55 goals
• Record in one-goal games: 8-0-0
• Record in OT/shootouts: 3-0-0
• Games allowing two goals or fewer: 8
• Record when out-shot: 5-5-0
• Games without allowing power-play goal: 6
• Penalty-kill: 78.7 percent (59 of 75)
• Power play: 15.7 percent (13 for 83)
• Goals for: 47
• Goals allowed: 56
Sources : NHLmedia.com; Devils/Penguins media guides
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