The New Jersey Devils could get a boost Saturday in a Metropolitan Division matchup against the host Pittsburgh Penguins.
Center Jack Hughes, who is having a career year, is expected to return after missing four games because of an upper-body injury.
“It looks like we’ve got Jack coming back into the lineup,” Devils coach Lindy Ruff said.
Hughes, who has 35 goals and 67 points in 50 games, practiced in full capacity Friday — a New Jersey workout and evening off that took place in Pittsburgh while the Penguins were playing on the road.
“He’s a big part of our offense. Definitely, everybody is happy if he will be back, and it will help us out a lot,” New Jersey captain Nico Hischier said of Hughes.
With Hughes at full tilt at practice, the team flashed some revamped lines — he centered Jesper Bratt and Yegor Sharangovich — that could be used against the Penguins.
The Devils, who are simultaneously chasing the first-place Carolina Hurricanes and trying to keep the New York Rangers in their rearview mirror in the Metropolitan, were 2-1-1 in Hughes’ absence. But they are coming off a disconcerting 4-2 loss Thursday at St. Louis, when Ruff said they “had a terrible night in our own end.”
The game in Pittsburgh winds up a four-game road trip for New Jersey.
The Penguins are in a challenging situation. Coming off a 2-1-0 trip to California, they opened a three-game stretch against Metropolitan teams with a 5-4 loss on the road Friday against the New York Islanders.
The Penguins were dominant for most of that game, building a two-goal lead in the second period before losing.
Pittsburgh is trying to at least cling to a wild-card spot but helped give the Islanders a boost in that race.
“We’ve got to find a way if we want to get two points, and we have to forget about (Friday’s loss),” said Pittsburgh captain Sidney Crosby, who had a goal and an assist against the Islanders.
And forget about it quickly. Not only do the Penguins face New Jersey in a back-to-back situation, but the game Saturday also starts 90 minutes earlier than usual, making the turnaround — with travel — even tighter.
Pittsburgh will be looking to repeat the strong parts of its game Friday, a performance that included 44 shots and long stretches in New York’s end.
“Our work ethic was there for sure,” said Penguins winger Rickard Rakell, who scored twice. “We played the game the way we wanted to; we just had a few too many breakdowns at the end of the game that cost us.
“We have to regroup for (Saturday).”
While Hughes most likely will be back for New Jersey, the status of Pittsburgh No. 1 goaltender Tristan Jarry is unclear, if not murky.
Jarry has missed the past eight games because of an upper-body injury. Coach Mike Sullivan has been saying for several days that Jarry is on the verge of coming back, and yet he has not dressed even as the backup the past two games.
“He’s not quite there yet, but he’s getting a lot closer,” Sullivan said Friday. “We’re certainly encouraged.”
If Jarry can’t start, either Casey DeSmith will have to play on a quick turnaround after playing Friday, or the Penguins will turn to No. 3 Dustin Tokarski.
–Field Level Media