Devils-Penguins Preview

The Associated Press

The Pittsburgh Penguins are reeling, and they might be dealing with the absence of another key contributor.

The New Jersey Devils wouldn't mind capitalizing on the Penguins' troubles for the second time in a week.

The Penguins may be without Jordan Staal when they attempt to avoid losing a fourth straight game Saturday night against the Devils.

Pittsburgh (21-14-4) has dropped three straight for the second time this season, but this trio has been decided in regulation. It's the team's longest such regulation drought since a five-game slide Dec. 27, 2009-Jan. 3, 2010, leaving the Penguins on the verge of their first four-game winless stretch since going 0-2-2 from Feb. 20-25.

Failing to get any points has dropped Pittsburgh into a third-place tie with New Jersey (22-16-2) in the Atlantic Division, 10 back of the league-leading New York Rangers.

The Penguins lost 3-1 to the Rangers on Friday, but may have suffered an even greater blow when Staal exited in the third period after a knee-to-knee collision with New York's Mike Rupp.

That could leave the Penguins without one of their top scorers, as Staal has 15 goals after getting just 11 during an injury-plagued 2010-11.

While possibly having to replace Staal is a challenge, coach Dan Bylsma wants to see the team avoid defensive errors after several led to goals for the Rangers.

"A lot of that game is the way we want to play, the way we need to play," Bylsma said. "It comes down to a couple plays, a couple mistakes by our team."

The Devils are trying to win consecutive games by again beating the Penguins. They won 3-1 at home last Saturday, as Ilya Kovalchuk scored on a penalty shot and collected two assists.

The star left wing failed to produce a point while New Jersey dropped its next two games to Ottawa and Boston, but he found the net twice in Friday's 5-2 victory over Southeast Division-leading Florida.

"The last two games were up and down for us and we really needed this one to bounce back," said Patrik Elias, who had a goal and two assists while becoming the third Devil to play in 1,000 games, joining Martin Brodeur (1,156) and the retired Ken Daneyko (1,283).

Elias has three points in two meetings with the Penguins this season and leads New Jersey with 37 points, while tying Kovalchuk and Zach Parise with a team-high 14 goals.

Adam Henrique is looking to build on his goal and assist from Friday. The center's 11 goals and 30 points rank him among the NHL's rookie scoring leaders, though he doesn't have a point in two games versus Pittsburgh.

The Penguins, meanwhile, are hoping James Neal and Evgeni Malkin can end their respective goal droughts.

Neal leads the team with 21, but doesn't have a point in three games and failed to find the net despite taking six shots Friday.

Malkin has a team-high 43 points, but none in two games and he hasn't scored in a season-high six. The center hasn't mustered a point in his past six games against New Jersey, five of which have ended in defeat.

Pittsburgh, though, has won four in a row at home over the Devils, including a 4-1 victory Oct. 22. However, that win was powered by two goals from Staal, whose nine career tallies against New Jersey are his second-most against any opponent.

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