The Devils play host to the red-hot Pittsburgh Penguins Saturday when the Sidney Crosby Comeback Tour makes a stop in Newark and welcome the challenge of facing the superstar for the first time this season.
Limited to eight games in a span of 14 months because of post-concussions symptoms, Crosby played Thursday in his first game since December 5 and helped lead the Penguins to their 10th straight win with a resounding 5-2 victory over the Rangers at Madison Square Garden.
Crosby chipped in with two assists, fellow returnee Kris Letang finished with a plus-five rating, and Evgeni Malkin was dazzling as the Penguins made a case for themselves as the team to beat in the East.
“You’re adding arguably the best player in the world and I think one of top five defenseman in the league into an already-deep lineup so you just watch the Rangers game [Thursday] night and you get an appreciation for the level they’re playing at as a group,” coach Pete DeBoer said. “And they’re just going to get better, so it’s a great test for us.”
However, the Devils are also playing good hockey of late. With six wins in the last eight games, they’re two points behind the fifth-place Flyers and four behind the surging Penguins.
With three weeks and 11 games left in the regular season, Saturday’s match should be a good barometer.
“I think it will be an interesting game for us,” said veteran goaltender Martin Brodeur, who recorded a 28-save shutout against Colorado Thursday. “These guys are flying high, playing well. I think the addition of the two guys they added [Thursday] makes them a team that’s going to be contending for probably the top of the conference and doing well in the playoffs. It’s a good measuring stick for us.”
And of course, all eyes will be on Crosby in his second game back in action.
“Whenever he has the puck, something can happen, whether he creates it himself or for someone around him, in the neutral zone or the offensive zone, you have to be aware,” said defenseman Mark Fayne.
Even with his playing time managed conservatively and the acclimation period following such a lengthy layoff, Crosby remains one of the most potent offensive threats in the league.
“Him at 70 per cent is still better than half the guys, three-quarters of the guys in the league. That’s how good he is,” Brodeur said. “And not just personally, but it’s how good guys are around him because of his skill and his vision and all that. When he’s in the lineup, regardless of how much he plays, he’s going to be a guy you put special attention on.”