NEWARK, N.J. -- These teams were supposed to contend for the Atlantic Division championship and chances are that well before the season has run its course, they will.
But for now, the Penguins and New Jersey, who will meet at 4:08 p.m. today at the Prudential Center, will be focused on more modest, immediate objectives.
Like, say, winning a game for the first time this season.
The Penguins are 0-2, with 3-2 losses at home to Philadelphia and Montreal, while the Devils are 0-1-1, and coming off a 7-2 humbling in Washington Saturday night.
Penguins coach Dan Bylsma is concerned enough about his team's work that he reconstructed three of his four lines at practice Sunday, leaving only the Matt Cooke-Max Talbot-Tyler Kennedy unit intact.
The other combinations are Chris Kunitz-Sidney Crosby-Mike Comrie, Eric Tangradi-Mark Letestu-Evgeni Malkin and Mike Rupp-Craig Adams-Pascal Dupuis/Eric Godard.
Bylsma said the moves were made to reward players such as Letestu who "have played well and done some good things and, given that ... deserve an opportunity" to fill a more prominent role, while giving lesser duties to those who haven't performed to expectations.
Bylsma declined to say whether he will make another significant personnel move -- giving No. 2 goalie Brent Johnson his first start of the season -- today, characterizing it as "a game-time decision."
The Penguins are counting on Comrie to add a dimension to their offense, which produced just two goals in each of the first two games. That's a big part of the reason the Penguins have held just one lead -- one that lasted less than 10 minutes -- so far.
"You want to take the lead and keep the lead, and we haven't been able to do that," center Max Talbot said.
That hasn't been a problem for the Devils' first two opponents, Dallas and Washington. New Jersey, traditionally one of the NHL's most stingy clubs, has its highest goals-against average, 5.50.
That's more than double the Devils' 2.27 mark from last season. Obviously, statistics generated in just two games have to be kept in perspective, but New Jersey officials understandably are concerned about how they've stumbled out of the gate.
"We have some work to do," coach John MacLean told reporters Saturday. "It's our responsibility to get it straightened out."
An even more pressing concern for the Devils might simply be finding a way to field a full lineup today.
The Devils, who are carrying just 20 players on their major-league roster, are up against the NHL's salary-cap ceiling, and had two regulars -- defenseman Anton Volchenkov and forward Brian Rolston -- injured in Washington.
Volchenkov got a broken nose when a shot by Capitals center Nicklas Backstrom drove his visor into it, and Rolston got what has been reported to be a back injury. Neither practiced Sunday, and MacLean told reporters he couldn't say whether either will be able to dress today.
However, unless they are injured badly enough to go on Long Term Injured Reserve, which does not appear to be the case, the Devils do not have the cap space needed to accommodate the players who would be brought up to fill in for them.
What's more, New Jersey will be without winger Pierre-Luc Letourneau-Leblond, who picked up an automatic one-game suspension for instigating a fight in the final five minutes of the game in Washington. His salary will count against the cap because the suspension stemmed from on-ice actions.
Letourneau-Leblond definitely is out and it's conceivable that either or both of the injured players will be unable to go today. That means, in a worst-case scenario for New Jersey, it could dress as few as 15 skaters, three below the norm, although just how much of a liability that would be for one game is a matter of opinion.
"Short-term, I don't think it is," Penguins defenseman Brooks Orpik said. "If they have more injuries and stuff, that's where they could really get exposed. For one game, you can't really take advantage of that."
Regardless of what it is that the Penguins exploit, they need to do something soon to earn a couple of points. Starting 0-2 hardly is reason to panic, let alone write off the season, but losses now shrink a team's margin for error as the season progresses.
"Two points in October are worth the same amount as they are in February," Comrie said. "It's probably a little early to start scoreboard-watching, but we know what to expect and what we're capable of."
For more on the Penguins, read the Pens Plus blog with Dave Molinari and Shelly Anderson at www.post-gazette.com/plus . Dave Molinari: firstname.lastname@example.org . First Published October 11, 2010 4:00 AM