Hynes: Penguins ‘play the same game, regardless of who’s in the lineup’


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Kris Letang and Sidney Crosby. -- MATT SUNDAY / DKPS

NEWARK, N.J. -- John Hynes coached the Penguins' farm team in Wilkes-Barre for six seasons before moving behind New Jersey's bench in 2015, so he knows all about Sidney Crosby and Kris Letang.

He's aware of the dimensions they add to the Penguins' game, and how they can complicate the challenges to opponents who are preparing to face them.

But even though the Penguins' lineup is somewhat diluted these days, Hynes doesn't expect a watered-down effort from them when they face the Devils tonight at 7:08 at Prudential Center.

"They're dynamic players, and you have to be alert when they're on the ice and (to) some of the strong things they bring to the team," Hynes said today. "But the one thing you have a lot of respect for with Pittsburgh is that they play the same game, regardless of who's in the lineup.

"They're deep. They have a lot of good players. They have a certain identity that they play to. They're one of the teams that's proven that if they have a big player or a star player out of the lineup, they share those minutes around and they play a real strong collective team game."

Devils forward Travis Zajac, who generally plays some of his best hockey against the Penguins, offered a similar assessment.

"They compete," he said. "They work hard. They still have (Evgeni Malkin) who can make plays, and they have other guys who are dangerous."

If nothing else, the game should present an intriguing contrast in flaws. The Penguins are a team that's found it impossible to get an early lead lately -- their past four opponents have scored the first two or three goals in each game -- while the Devils have found holding onto late leads to be tougher than picking up a lump of mercury.

With tweezers.

While blindfolded.

The Devils are just 2-2-2 when leading after two periods, including a 4-2 loss to Ottawa Wednesday, when the Senators scored three unanswered goals in the third period.

"We didn't play well enough last game to deserve two points," Zajac said.

That obviously has happened a lot this season; the Devils are marooned in last place in the Eastern Conference, in large part because of their inability to protect leads.

There has not, however, been a common thread running through those games, an issue the coaching staff can identify and try to correct.

"They've been different," Hynes said. "It's not one common theme, other than the fact that we've given up quite a few leads. "

Zajac suggested that the Devils have to focus on the finer points of their game when regulation is winding down.

"By the third (period), we have to make sure we're at our best," he said. "Detail-wise, system-wise, competitiveness. All those little things."

It would behoove the Devils to do that soon, because they already are eight points behind the Penguins, who currently hold the final Eastern Conference playoff spot.

"We have to buy in," Zajac said. "We have to be unselfish. We have to value little things that you think maybe don't make a difference, but they do. If we do that, we have as much skill as anyone in this league."

• While the Penguins have lost 67 man-games to injury, New Jersey has lost just 20. The Devils will be without at least two regulars tonight, however, as defenseman Sami Vatanen will sit out his third game in a row because of an unspecified upper-body injury and Kevin Rooney will be scratched, according to Hynes.

• Hynes said he and his staff still were working on the configuration of their forward lines, but here are the groups the Devils used in practice Thursday:

Taylor Hall -- Jack Hughes -- Kyle Palmieri
Pavel Zacha -- Nico Hischier -- Jesper Bratt
Blake Coleman -- Travis Zajac -- Nikita Gusev
Miles Wood -- Kevin Rooney -- Wayne Simmonds

There will be at least one change to those combinations, because Rooney will not play.

• The Penguins, as often is the case, called off their morning skate, but Mike Sullivan is scheduled to meet with reporters a couple of hours before the game.

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