The Pittsburgh Penguins and New Jersey Devils, scheduled to play Sunday in Newark, N.J., so far have escaped postponements during the rampant spread of COVID-19 throughout the NHL.
So for now their game is on, although Devils defenseman P.K. Subban on Saturday was placed into COVID-19 protocol, joining four teammates already in the protocol.
The Penguins, who for the moment have no players in the protocol, take a six-game winning streak, their longest of the season, into the game.
Perhaps as impressive as that streak and their 11-2-1 showing over their past 14 games is that the Penguins have maintained a strong two-way game rather than relying on their traditional high-octane offense.
Pittsburgh has given up 23 goals in those 14 games.
“Our team defense has, for the most part, been very good during this run,” Pittsburgh center Jeff Carter said.
The Penguins also have killed off 35 consecutive opponent power plays over a franchise-record 15 games and lead the NHL with a penalty kill proficiency of a whopping 93 percent.
That paid off big-time Friday when Pittsburgh began overtime against Buffalo with nearly a full 2 minutes on the penalty kill but did not give a up a goal and then won 3-2 later in the overtime.
The Penguins did that with a system that limits opponents’ ability to get their power play set up.
“We were stingy on the entry (into Pittsburgh’s end), and that limited their zone time,” Penguins coach Mike Sullivan said.
New Jersey, meanwhile, has dropped five straight games, including a 5-2 decision Saturday at Detroit.
“It’s brutal. … It’s frustrating,” New Jersey defenseman Damon Severson said. “COVID, we’re missing guys, we’re not playing good, we’re losing — everything that could go wrong seems to be (going wrong) right now.”
The Devils have not had games wiped out, but they are being hit hard by COVID-19 absences and other issues.
In addition to Subban and the others in the protocol — Nico Hischier, Ryan Graves, Jesper Boqvist and Christian Jaros — winger Jesper Bratt was a late scratch Saturday at Detroit because of a non-COVID illness.
In all, 10 players were missing Saturday for various reasons, including injured goaltenders Mackenzie Blackwood and Jonathan Bernier.
Blackwood (neck) is considered day-to-day, but it’s not known if he might be available Sunday. If not, rookie Akira Schmid or newly acquired Jon Gillies will carry the load, with Gillies perhaps making his Devils debut Sunday.
“We run with what we’ve got,” Devils coach Lindy Ruff said.
On top of that, New Jersey’s American Hockey League affiliate, Utica, is in shutdown mode because of a COVID situation.
That meant the Devils, according to their website, did not feel comfortable recalling anyone for Saturday night and played down a body, with 11 forwards.
It’s not clear how they could rectify that before Sunday’s game against Pittsburgh if Bratt is still unavailable.
“We’re being challenged as a team,” Ruff said. “It’s hard. There are other teams dealing with it. We know that teams have been shut down.
“It’s the young guys’ opportunity to prove that they can be players, but at the same time, when you take some of the players that we have out of our lineup, we have to adjust how we play.”
–Field Level Media