New Jersey Devils vs. Florida Panthers: Game 44 Preview

Jim McIsaac

The New Jersey Devils play their last weekend home game of the 2013 season against the struggling Florida Panthers. This post previews the game by highlighting who's threatening on Florida and what the Devils should try to do to win.

The Devils finally scored a goal, scored a second, and scored more than their opposition to win a game on Thursday. Can they do it again today?

The Time: 1:00 PM EDT

The Broadcast: TV - MSG, NHL Network (US); Radio - 1130 AM WBBR

The Matchup: The New Jersey Devils (16-17-10) vs. the Florida Panthers (13-24-6; SBN Blog: Litter Box Cats)

The Ticket Link for TiqIQ: It's the final weekend Devils home game of the regular season. You don't have a lot of time, but if you want to get to the game, then the secondary market may be your best bet. Go visit our partners at TiqIQ to find something on the secondary market: New Jersey Devils tickets.

The Last Devils Game: The Devils went down to Philadelphia to play their final regular season game of the 2013 season against the Flyers. It wasn't the best of starts, but early on Martin Brodeur was performing well in his crease and the Devils did establish some possession. Alas, the first period went without a goal, making it seven consecutive periods without a goal. Ryan Carter changed that in the second period. With the help of Steve Bernier, Stephen Gionta, and possibly the blade of Jakub Voracek's stick, Carter rifled one high to the top right corner past Ilya Bryzgalov. Not only did the Devils score, they were up one. And they continued to press on for a second goal, hitting the post twice among several other shots on Bryzgalov. In the third period, the Devils managed to do more than their opponents and actually were rewarded for it. Jacob Josefson stole a puck in the neutral zone, played it into space for Matt D`Agostini, and his teammate was off on a breakway. Bryzgalov got caught with his five-hole open and it was 2-0. The Devils held on and Adam Henrique tacked on an empty net goal to end it 3-0. The Devils scored, Brodeur got his 121st career shutout, and the ten-game winless streak was over. My jubilant-for-a-change recap is here.

The Last Panthers Game: On Thursday, the Florida Panthers went into MSG to play the New York Rangers. The Panthers' season is playing for pride again so they hoped to spoil the Blueshirts. That didn't happen. Derrick Brassard got a good bounce on a power play to make it 1-0 just over three minutes into the game. Rick Nash blasted one in on a power play later in the first to double the lead. Florida did make it interesting later that period when Jonathan Huberdeau scored. However, a close second period opened back up to a two-goal lead for the home team when Mats Zuccarello (Aside: what happened to the Aasen in his name?) backhanded one in 16:34 into the second. The third period really opened up within the final five minutes as Zuccarello tipped a puck in for his brace; Brassard scored to earn a brace; and Brad Richards finished off a move late for what would be the final score: 6-1. So much for spoiling the second best team in New York. Ryan Meier wasn't happy with the team's performance in his recap at Litter Box Cats.

The Last Devils-Panthers Game: Way back on March 30, the Devils went into Sunrise to play the Panthers. The Devils were coming off a shootout loss to Tampa Bay, an event that happened because the Bolts scored with the extra skater in the final minute. History would eventually repeat itself. Steve Bernier scored early with as the "toe" in a tic-tac-toe play by the CBGB line. Florida would equalize with a power play in the first period when a puck ricocheted off Shawn Matthias' skate and past Martin Brodeur. The second period was fairly lackluster from a Devils point of view as the Panthers did more with the puck. They would fight back in the third and go up 2-1 thanks to Bernier tipping a shot by Henrik Tallinder. However, the team didn't really keep Florida honest, and their desperate last-minute effort for an equalizer worked. Scottie Upshall got away with hitting a puck with a high-stick, the puck flew out to the middle, and Matthias finished it on Brodeur's left flank to make it 2-2. There would be no shootout as Dmitry Kulikov ended it in OT to make it a 3-2 loss. Ugh. Jerry wrote up the game here at ILWT. Here's his scoring chance count of the game which was, well, not kind to New Jersey or Florida. Over at LBC, Chris S Roberts praised Matthias in Florida "stealing" a victory in his recap.

The Goal: Make possession count as much as possible. That seems strange given that the Devils are one of the best teams in the league when it comes to getting shots through and generating attempts in 5-on-5 play. However, the last Devils-Panthers game was the last time the Devils got out-done in possession at even strength. Granted, the Devils did have a lead for stretches in the game. But their lack of offensive push was notable late in the game. It looked like the team just wanted to hold out until the end. That obviously didn't happen. It possibly could have been mitigated had the Devils kept the Panthers honest late in the game. The Panthers haven't been too bad in close-score situations this season, so they're not total doormats in the possession game. I think if the Devils can make them look like one, then they'll have a better chance to win this last matinee at the Rock this season.

The Panthers are currently on a four-game losing streak. Three of those four losses haven't been close. They got whipped 7-2 by Winnipeg, dropped 5-2 by the Isles, and ripped 6-1 by the Rangers. They did lose a close one to Pittsburgh at home 3-1 so there's that. Neither Scott Clemmensen (lit up by the Rangers) or Jakob Markstrom (crushed in the Jets and Isles games) have been super amazing in net as of late. If that wasn't enough, the team continues to be bit by the injury bug. Injuries to Filip Kuba and Tyson Strachan led the Panthers to call up Alex Petrovic before the Rangers game. As Harvey Fialkov reported at the Sun-Sentinel, he is their eighth player to make his NHL debut this season. The team is still without Kris Versteeg, Stephen Weiss, and Sean Bergenheim; three pretty big losses for a team producing only 2.3 goals per game - the third lowest rate in the league (and the Devils are worse than them, so don't gloat). They're also without anything resembling a decent penalty with a league-worst-by-far 72.9% success rate. Were they healthier, Jose Theodore plays instead of Clemmensen, and they get some better breaks, perhaps they don't rolled so much and not look to end the season with the worst record in the league.

Of course, in today's NHL, you disrespect your opponent at your own peril. The Panthers have a few players the Devils should watch for that you should be familiar with. First, there's Shawn Matthias. He got two against the Devils last time - albeit one was really off his skate - and he's tied for second on the team with 14 goals. He also averages over two shots per game. For a guy with an ATOI of 15:18, he could be one to watch. Second, there's Jonathan Huberdeau. He's leading all rookies in scoring and he's just behind Tomas Fleischmann with the team lead in points. He's got 14 goals, 14 assists, plenty of stickhandling moves, and 109 shots on net. Huberdeau and Matthias played together quite a bit on Thursday so we could see them both at the same time. Third, Fleischmann has brought the points (30), assists (21), and shots (108, third on the team) but not so much in the way of luck (8.3%). His regular linemate Tomas Kopecky, on the other hand, has it with 15 goals out of 87 shots. Yes, he's shooting over 17%. Don't be surprised if you see Fleischmann look for Kopecky to finish plays. Fourth, Peter Mueller may not have a lot of points with only 8 goals and 9 assists in 40 games. But he will definitely make an effort. He leads the team in shots with 122 and boy does he drive the play at even strength. Only Drew Shore and Quinton Howden among current regulars have higher on-ice Corsi rates per Behind the Net. Fifth, Brian Campbell has been the top defenseman for the Panthers by far. He averages over 26 minutes per game, he plays in all situations, and he's been productive with 7 goals and 14 assists. He may get very favorable zone starts according to Behind the Net, but he plays so much against so many opposition players that he's doing harder work than it appears. Among the Florida defense, he's the big threat at both ends.

Unfortunately a team with a several good players doesn't necessarily mean it's a good team. The team regularly allows over 31 shots per game on average. If the goaltending isn't good, then the Panthers are usually in trouble. While they have a potent power play led by Campbell (6 PPG with 9 PPA), their penalty killing has been awful. Their best goalie, Markstrom, has a save percentage of 92% at evens to a woeful 80.2% whenever the Panthers are down a man this season. The Panthers aren't necessarily terrible with discipline; they have the eleventh fewest shorthanded situations in the league at 140. They just struggle mightily when it happens. Maybe this could be the day the Devils power play functions more effectively. If anything, the Devils power play should just consider firing away given how the Panthers In any case, throw in Clemmensen not being good in either situation this season and it's no wonder the Panthers have the league-worst goals against per game average of 3.54.

Of course, I write all that and I remember the Devils have scored a whopping four goals in two games against this team. Still, I like the Devils' chances at lighting the lamp quite a bit. Again, the Panthers have been beaten down quite a bit in recent play and they have nothing much to play for. It's entirely reasonable to think the Devils could get the job done if they play more like they have been for the last two weeks or so.

As far as what the Devils will look like, Tom Gulitti's report of Friday's practice at Fire & Ice suggests the answer is status quo. It will be on the back end. Gulitti confirmed that Martin Brodeur will start in net today against the Panthers. Assuming he gets the Rangers game on Sunday, it's possible that Moose will watch this season end from the bench. With Bryce Salvador still hurt and Anton Volchenkov still suspended, the pairings in practice remained the same from Thursday's game. It seems to me that it'll be the same six guys today. I liked how the Devils defense played against the Flyers. I can't complain about how little they've allowed their opposition in prior games as a whole. Therefore, I wouldn't mind seeing those three pairings again. Hopefully, Andy Greene continues to be the leader of the pack.

Offensively, well, that too may stay the same. This would mean Andrei Loktionov remains out for Jacob Josefson, Tom Kostopoulos remains a spare, and the CBGB line that played so well on Thursday night stays united. This would also mean Ilya Kovalchuk is out again. He did practice on Friday but he was with the other extra forwards on Friday. If he practiced with the other regulars, then I would expect him to play. But it doesn't seem to be in the cards. Maybe when Peter DeBoer talks with him, things will change. Provided the other lines stay the same, I would keep a critical line on the unit of Adam Henrique, Dainius Zubrus, and David Clarkson. They didn't look very good on Thursday. Henrique had an off night with the puck and Clarkson was just a passenger. While the Devils aren't so hinged on those two players, the team would clearly be better off today if they both were more active and effective. I would very much like to see Clarkson actually shoot today - he didn't in Philly - and Henrique be able to catch a few more passes in motion.

Nevertheless, it'll be refreshing to see the team come out onto the ice fresh off a victory for the first time in weeks. Hopefully, the Devils manage to pull ahead so they don't have to worry about it being close, don't see an important player get injured, and get another win so it's not a repeat of the previous Devils-Panthers game at the Rock. It may not mean much in the bigger picture but better to go out with a high note than a low one. Besides, the Devils fans at the rock in recent games have been rather vocal, even getting excited early for pucks just missing wide. They want something to cheer for and I'm one of them. Let's root for the win.

That's my take on today's game. The goal breakdown of Carter's strike from Thursday will be up a little later in the morning. In the meantime, let me know what you think will happen in today's game. Will the Devils prevail? Will they score goals? Will Clarkson do anything good? Please leave your answers and other thoughts in the comments. Thank you for reading.

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