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NHL Preview from The Sports Network
Tuesday, December 31st (All times Eastern)
Pittsburgh Penguins (29-11-1) at New Jersey Devils (16-16-8), 1 p.m.
(SportsNetwork.com) - The first-place Pittsburgh Penguins will try to close their terrific month of December on a positive note when they visit the New Jersey Devils for Tuesday's afternoon battle at Prudential Center.
The Penguins are 11-2-0 this month and have won 14 of their last 16 games overall to open a huge lead atop the Metropolitan Division. Pittsburgh, which also leads the Eastern Conference with 59 points, is 14 points ahead of Washington for the division lead and five in front of Boston for the top spot in the East.
The Devils, meanwhile, are sitting in a tie with the New York Rangers for fourth place in the Metro with 40 points.
Today's tilt is the fourth and final regular-season encounter between the Devils and Pens this season. Pittsburgh has taken two of three encounters so far in the season series, but the Devils have claimed four of six meetings overall.
New Jersey also has dominated the Pens on home ice in recent years, taking three straight, seven of eight and 11 of the past 13 meetings in the Garden State. The Devils notched a 4-1 victory when they hosted Pittsburgh on Nov. 16, as former Penguins star Jaromir Jagr notched a pair of goals and Martin Brodeur stopped 27-of-28 shots for the win.
Pittsburgh, which is playing without a host of regulars, including top defenseman Kris Letang and star forward Evgeni Malkin, is 2-1-0 on a current four-game road trip. The Pens have won two straight after opening the swing with a 5-0 setback in Ottawa.
James Neal led the Pens to their most recent triumph, as he recorded the fourth hat trick of his career and also added two assists to help Pittsburgh down Columbus by a 5-3 score on Sunday.
Sidney Crosby and Chris Kunitz each registered a goal and two assists for the Penguins, while Jeff Zatkoff made 25 stops in the win.
"We generated enough chances and I'm glad we found the back of the net," said Crosby.
The victory improved Pittsburgh to 12-8-1 as the road team this season.
Malkin missed his seventh straight game due to a lower-body injury, but he is with the team on this road trip and is questionable for today.
New Jersey halted a two-game slide in its last outing, notching a 2-1 regulation win Saturday on Long Island. Travis Zajac scored the game winner with 6:57 remaining to lift the Devils to the close decision over the Islanders at Nassau Coliseum.
Adam Henrique scored New Jersey's other goal, while Cory Schneider stopped 30 shots for the Devils, who had lost three of their last four games before edging the Isles.
"We needed this as a group," Schneider said. "It's a big two points for us."
Brodeur expects to get the start in net for New Jersey today and the future Hall of Famer is 47-28-1 with four ties and a 2.47 goals against average in 83 career outings against the Pens.
Marc-Andre Fleury figures to get the call between the pipes for the Pens. He is 17-21-4 with a 2.50 GAA in 42 career starts versus the Devils.
12/31 10:54:22 ET