The New Jersey Devils and Pittsburgh Penguins face off for the eighth and final time this season Saturday (12:30 p.m. ET; NHLN, ATTSN-PT, MSG+, NHL.TV) in the “NHL Network Showcase presented by SAP.”
The Penguins (30-14-3) are tied for second with the New York Islanders, one point behind the first-place Washington Capitals, in the eight-team MassMutual East Division, where the top four teams will qualify for the Stanley Cup Playoffs. It would be the 15th consecutive postseason appearance for the Penguins, who have not advanced beyond the second round since winning the Stanley Cup in back-to-back seasons (2016, 2017).
Pittsburgh is 5-1-1 against New Jersey, including wins Tuesday and Thursday. Penguins forwards Bryan Rust (nine games; six goals, eight assists) and Jake Guentzel (eight games; six goals, seven assists) each have point streaks against the Devils.
The Devils (14-26-6) have lost eight in a row (0-8-0) and will miss the playoffs for the eighth time in nine seasons since playing in the 2012 Stanley Cup Final.
Here are 3 storylines to keep an eye on:
Sidney Crosby is one goal from his 13th 20-goal season in the NHL and passing Evgeni Malkin and Mario Lemieux for the most in Penguins history. The Penguins captain has scored 54 points (19 goals, 35 assists) in 46 games, 25 (eight goals, 17 assists) in 17 games since March 20, when Pittsburgh is 12-3-2.
Crosby has also historically produced with Malkin out of the lineup. He’s scored 25 points (eight goals, 17 assists) in 17 games this season without the center, who is week to week with a lower-body injury, and 198 points (69 goals, 129 assists) in 160 games.
The Devils will use their remaining 10 regular-season games to evaluate the development of their young core led by 22-year-old captain Nico Hischier, 19-year-old center Jack Hughes and 24-year-old goalie Mackenzie Blackwood. Ty Smith, a 21-year-old defenseman who’s day to day with an upper-body injury, leads NHL rookies at the position with 21 points (two goals, 19 assists) and 15 even-strength points (one goal, 14 assists). The youth movement also includes forwards Nolan Foote, 20; Janne Kuokkanen, 22; Yegor Sharangovich, 22; Marian Studenic, 22; Jesper Boqvist, 22; Michael McLeod, 23; Nathan Bastian, 23; and Mikhail Maltsev, 23.
Since the 2015 NHL Draft, 20 of New Jersey’s picks have played in at least one NHL game, the most during that span.
Penguins need strong finish
Though the Penguins are 7-3-1 in April, they’ve allowed 38 goals (3.45 per game). They gave up five goals in the second period of a 7-5 loss to the Boston Bruins on April 3, eight to the New York Rangers their next game and six third-period goals Tuesday after taking a 6-0 lead, a game they held on to win 7-6.
They have questions that need to be answered before the playoffs, even with a nine-point lead over the fifth-place New York Rangers. One is settling on a starting goalie. Tristan Jarry was 11-2-2 with a 2.38 goals-against average and .923 save percentage in 16 games before allowing those six goals Tuesday. He bounced back by making 30 saves in a 5-1 win Thursday. Casey DeSmith is 2-3-0 with a 3.90 GAA and .862 save percentage in five April games (four starts).