By Garrett Perry and Josh Elliott
The Senators travel to New Jersey and the Penguins visit Madison Square Garden in a light night on the NHL schedule. Still, THN gets you prepared with our five things to watch, from the Penguins battling through injuries, to superb freshmen defensemen, and more.
Schneider in the shadow – again
After the promise of a 50-50 split in starts upon his arrival, New Jersey Devils goaltender Cory Schneider is starting to take a back seat to future Hall of Famer Martin Brodeur. Brodeur will start his 20th game of the season tonight, while Schneider has just 15 appearances this year. Schneider’s 1.97 goals-against average and .917 save percentage are better than Brodeur’s (2.31 and .905, respectively), but Brodeur holds the decisive edge in wins with nine to Schneider’s four. The two are still splitting back-to-back games on most occasions, but Brodeur appears to hold the edge right now with coach Peter DeBoer.
The Pittsburgh Penguins have more players missing from their lineup than any other team in the league. Despite a full infirmary, the Penguins have still managed nine wins in 10 games, giving them a 10-point cushion atop the Metropolitan Division. Pittsburgh’s top four defensemen – Kris Letang, Brooks Orpik, Paul Martin, and Rob Scuderi – are all currently on the shelf with injuries and Deryk Engelland is likely looking at a suspension for his hit to the head on Detroit’s Justin Abdelkader on Saturday. That leaves Matt Niskanen as the only Penguins’ defenseman with more than a year of NHL experience. Up front, the Penguins are missing key contributors Evgeni Malkin, who is still questionable for Wednesday’s game against the Rangers with a lower body injury, and James Neal, who is serving the fifth and final game of a suspension. With such a depleted lineup, Pittsburgh is displaying the quality talent they have developed in AHL Wilkes-Barre/Scranton. The Pens’ prospect pool and a healthy Sidney Crosby are keeping the ship afloat.
Sens of desperation
The Ottawa Senators have been playing seesaw with their season record lately, alternating wins and losses the past 18 games. They haven’t won consecutive games since three straight from Nov. 5-9 and have failed to take advantage of struggling Toronto and Philadelphia to jump up into a wildcard spot. That said, the Senators have eight of a possible 12 points in their past six games, and four of those six have gone to extra time or the shootout. After a 3-2 OT win over St. Louis on Monday, the Sens will try to string two together tonight against the Devils.
Defensemen generally take longer to develop, but this year a number of stud rookie blueliners are paying dividends for their teams. Most recently, it was the 19-year-old Cody Ceci shining for the Ottawa Senators. The hometown product scored his first NHL goal in overtime on Monday to help the Sens defeat the St. Louis Blues. And while it’s uncertain how long the youngster will stay with the club, the Senators have got a glimpse of the talent that made him the 15th overall pick in 2012. In Pittsburgh, Olli Maata is the name. Not expected to stay with the team past the nine-game mark, the 19-year-old has gone on to play in all 35 games, recording two goals and eight points for the Penguins. His importance to an injury riddled Pens team is evident in their hesitation to lend him to Finland for the WJC. The New Jersey Devils, on the other hand, have two young blueliners making waves. Eric Gelinas and Jon Merrill have been welcome additions, banking big minutes with the likes of Bryce Salvador, Peter Harrold, and Adam Larsson out with injuries. The 22-year old Gelinas has been particularly impressive, recording nine power play points, second in the NHL among rookie defensemen. Keep an eye out for these young guns tonight.
Tonight will be Henrik Lundqvist’s season-high seventh straight start in goal. The Rangers workhorse goaltender will tie Ed Giacomin for third place on the team’s all-time goalie list in games played with 538. Mike Richter, one of the best American-born goalies of all time, sits first with 666 career games played for New York. Lundqvist, the Rangers No. 1 goalie for nine years, signed a seven-year contract extension earlier this month worth $59.5 million. The five-time Vezina Trophy finalist – winning it once in 2011-12 – turns 32 years old in March and is generally considered to be the best goaltender in the league.