The biggest questions surrounding Thursday’s game between the Pittsburgh Penguins and visiting New Jersey Devils are whether it will be a clash of each team’s top player, and which team’s streak will continue.
Penguins center Sidney Crosby is expected to be there, and he’s flying, coming off a four-point night that helped Pittsburgh win its fifth straight game.
Devils center Jack Hughes has a shot to return Thursday from a right shoulder injury, according to coach Lindy Ruff. Hughes has missed the past four games, and New Jersey has lost three in a row.
Crosby, 36, has not let age slow him. He leads Pittsburgh in goals with 10 and in points with 19 after he had a hat trick plus an assist Tuesday in a 5-3 win against the Blue Jackets at Columbus.
“I’ve seen him do stuff like that for a long time,” said fellow Penguins center Lars Eller, who saw most of Crosby’s exploits as an opponent before joining Pittsburgh this season.
Crosby has captained the Penguins to three Stanley Cups, along with gathering a trophy case full of individual awards, and it’s doubtful anyone in Pittsburgh would argue that he’s the heartbeat of the team.
“He’s essential,” Penguins coach Mike Sullivan said. “His leadership manifests itself in so many different ways. It’s not just his voice in the locker room, but it’s his example of how he plays That might be the most powerful way he leads.”
Hughes, 22, still has a lot of time to grow into a role as significant as Crosby’s, but he’s been key to New Jersey being relevant the past couple of seasons and his absence has been noticeable.
New Jersey has lost by at least two goals each game during its three-game skid, and the Devils seem to desperately need Hughes back.
Despite missing four games, Hughes still is tied for the team lead with 20 points, including five goals. That point total was tied for the NHL lead when he got hurt.
There were initial fears that Hughes would be out for at least a few weeks.
“I think we got lucky. It could have been worse,” Devils general manager Tom Fitzgerald said.
Tuesday, New Jersey dropped a 6-3 game against the Jets in Winnipeg, a game that was tied 2-2 in the second.
With or without Hughes, the Devils are looking for better play.
“We have to address things,” winger Jesper Bratt said. “It’s far away from the hockey that we want to play for 60 minutes.”
The solution might not be complicated.
“I think you can always go back to work hard and keep it simple,” said forward Dawson Mercer, who scored a too-little, too-late power-play goal against the Jets. “If you do that, you’ll give yourself a better chance. We’ve just got to stick with it, play a full 60 (minutes).
“The good thing is now we’ve got another chance on Thursday night and we’ll come right back for that.”
New Jersey is also without accomplished center Nico Hischier, who went on injured reserve on Tuesday after being out since Oct. 27 because of an upper-body injury.
–Field Level Media
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