New Jersey and the Penguins have shared a division for much of the time since the Devils were transplanted from Colorado more than three decades ago.
In that time, New Jersey has taken a spot among the Penguins' most familiar -- and, at times, most formidable -- rivals.
But the Devils will have a somewhat different look when they visit Consol Energy Center tonight for the Penguins' season-opener.
The face of their franchise, future Hall of Fame goaltender Martin Brodeur, will be in the building, but not in his usual spot in the crease. Cory Schneider, acquired from Vancouver in June, is scheduled to start instead.
Brodeur recently missed four days of practice after the death of his father in Montreal, and the Devils plan to use him Friday in their own home opener. Sitting him against the Penguins, however, will end Brodeur's NHL-record run of 18 consecutive opening-night starts for the same franchise.
Although Brodeur has tormented the Penguins for years, left winger Chris Kunitz said, "Both of their goalies are top-notch, No. 1 guys who can shut you down" and "it will be a tough test, no matter who it is [in goal]."
New Jersey also will be without left winger Ilya Kovalchuk, a prolific goal-scorer now playing in his native Russia.
"He's obviously a unique player, a guy who can get close to 30 minutes a night [of ice time]," Kunitz said. "Regular nights, he's [logging] 25, 26. That's unheard of, for a forward to play that much.
"He's a dynamic player, in the way he can shoot the puck and the way he saw the game."
But, even with Brodeur on the bench and Kovalchuk across the Atlantic, Sidney Crosby suggested that not everything about the Devils -- who also added Penguins alum Jaromir Jagr to their roster over the summer -- will change.
"The personnel [is different], but the way that they play has always been pretty disciplined, no matter who has been there," Crosby said. "They always believe in their system. I'm expecting a team with a lot to prove."
Neal's status uncertain
James Neal, who plays right wing on the Penguins' No. 2 line, made a brief appearance on the ice before practice Wednesday, then departed and did not return. His status for the game tonight is not known.
Coach Dan Bylsma described Neal as "day-to-day" with an unspecified injury, which he said did not happen Wednesday on the ice.
Joe Vitale, who normally centers the fourth line, filled in for Neal alongside Jussi Jokinen and Evgeni Malkin during line rushes.
Kobasew signs contract
The Penguins tweaked their opening-night roster with a series of widely anticipated personnel moves.
Winger Chuck Kobasew, who attended training camp on a pro tryout, was signed to a one-year contract worth $550,000, and winger Matt D'Agostini was placed on Long-Term Injured Reserve.
"This is a great team," Kobasew said.
"I'm just looking to be a piece of the puzzle."
Also, winger Beau Bennett was recalled from their ECHL affiliate in Wheeling -- "Their camp hasn't really started yet, so I didn't have to worry about that," Bennett said, "I just go where I'm told." -- while forward Chris Conner and defenseman Harrison Ruopp were assigned to their American Hockey League team in Wilkes-Barre.
Bennett had been sent to the Nailers and Conner and Ruopp put on the major league roster Monday in maneuvers related to the NHL salary cap.
Kobasew and Bennett were linemates at practice Wednesday, flanking Brandon Sutter on the third line.
"We've had some practices together and played in one exhibition game," Kobasew said. "We're going to try to build some chemistry. I'll try to complement the two of them. I'm a simple player.
"[Sutter] is a big-body centerman, two-way guy. He's good in his own end, and Beau definitely brings more skill to the line. I think we all bring something different and hopefully, we can mesh."
Dave Molinari: Dmolinari@post-gazette.com and Twitter @MolinariPG. First Published October 3, 2013 4:00 AM