Why is this game on national television? Really, why?
The Time: 7:30 PM EST
The Broadcast: TV - NBC Sports Network; Radio - 660 AM & 101.9 FM WFAN
The Last Devils Game: On Saturday night, the New Jersey Devils went to Long Island for the final time this season to play the New York Islanders. The first was rough as the Isles went right at the Devils - literally. The severely out-hit them and actually succeeded in winning pucks and creating offense from said hits. It helped pin the Devils back as they were heavily outshot in the first. The score was thankfully 0-0. The Devils started to get back to their game more in the second, but then a fluke struck against them. Frans Nielsen threw a puck to the middle, Peter Harrold rightly tried to clear it out, but it went off Patrik Elias' shin (he was rightly backchecking) and into the net. The Devils would get an equalizer, though. Damien Brunner tried to beat Kevin Czuchman, the puck went off the defender's skate and right to an open Adam Henrique. Henrique put a shot off Anders Nilsson and put back his own rebound to make it 1-1. The Devils went on to out-shoot the Islanders for the rest of regulation, but they kept getting blocked, missed a few times, and couldn't put another past Nilsson. The Devils got great looks in overtime, but Nilsson was able to keep it all out. A shootout was necessary and it happened again: no goals, no stops, no extra point. The Devils lost 1-2; my recap of the team's tenth shootout loss is here.
The Last Panthers Game: The Devils weren't the only ones to have a bad start on Saturday night, then get a load of Florida's start against Montreal on the same night. The Canadiens didn't heavily out-shoot the Panthers, but Florida didn't convert on two power plays and the visitors struck gold later in the first. Thomas Vanek tipped in a puck past halfway through the first and Max Pacioretty scored just after a Florida penalty ended. The Canadiens were heavily out-shot in the second period, 12-5, but Pacioretty got his second of the night at the 14 minute mark to make it 3-0. Brad Boyes got the Panthers on the board a few minutes later. Devils fans should be especially aware of how the Panthers really pushed to make a comeback happen in the third. The out-shot the Canadiens 15-3. That third shot, however, was an empty netter by David Desharnais. Carey Price stopped the deluge of rubber he saw after Boyes' goal. The Panthers lost 1-4; Todd Little has this recap at Litter Box Cats.
The Last Devils-Panthers Game: Devils fans are sadly aware of comeback efforts by the Panthers. Back on March 14, the Devils got off to a really sluggish start. Brian Campbell popped in a loose puck on a play created by an awful turnover by Patrik Elias to make it 0-1. The Devils were able to make it 1-1 despite the run of play when Jaromir Jagr touched off a rebound attempt by Damien Brunner past Roberto Luongo. The second period was far better for New Jersey. Bryce Salvador got his first of the season thanks to fortunate deflection off a Panther to make it 2-1. Elias scored a lovely shot past a screen by Dainius Zubrus to make it 3-1. But the Panthers hit back with their second shot of the period. Michael Ryder decided that not covering Quinton Howden in the slot was a thing to do and so Howden popped in a rebound to make it 3-2. In the third, Mark Fayne made a terrible turnover right to Brad Boyes, who beat Cory Schneider clean on the ensuing breakaway. Scottie Upshall took a shot, went off Jagr's stick, and into the net to make it 3-4. The Devils tried to push back but instead suffered an empty netter against to seal the game due to the efforts of Vincent Trochek. It was a disgraceful game from the Devils, as I explained in my recap. Over at Litter Box Cats, Todd Little had this recap of Florida snapping their three game losing streak.
The Goal: Get off to a good start - and keep at it. The Devils struggled in their last two games to start off well, getting out shot by their opposition and being forced to play a lot more defense. Passes were off the mark, players seemed a step behind, and the opponent took advantage. The last two games alone dictate a need to be more productive and take more control early on. Tonight's opponent is a perfect team to do that against. Not only did they go down early to Montreal, but it's been a part of the Panthers' season. According to NHL.com, the Panthers have been one of the lowest scoring teams in first periods (41) while conceding the most first period goals (78). This isn't to say the Devils can play one awesome first period and be done with it. Florida will fight back; they did out-shoot Montreal, a playoff team, 27-8 after a 0-2 first period. But the Devils can make life a lot easier on themselves if they can control the game early on and put a few pucks past the goalie.
Avoiding a Repeat But....: Since it hasn't been too long since the Devils played Florida, please refer to the preview of the March 14 Devils-Panthers game. Of particular note from that preview is that Florida remains awful on special teams. Their power play has a conversion rate of just 10%, the lowest in the league. Their penalty kill has a success rate of 75.2%, the lowest in the league. The Devils should avoid taking calls as a general point, but really should relish any man advantage situations they get against this team. They set up decently on Saturday but a few miscues turned those opportunities away. They should be able to get set up and take all kinds of shots - which they should considering the goalie for Florida.
Also, their depth remains thin. Sure, they nearly all (shout out to Krys Barch still being bad at hockey) came out way ahead in possession against Montreal, but that was score effects going wild along with the Canadiens hanging back. If the Devils can clamp down on their best players like Sean Bergenheim, Boyes, and Scottie Upshall while avoid having Brian Campbell and Erik Gudbrandon do as they wish on defense, then they can really take advantage of favorable match-ups at evens. The Panthers definitely don't roll over, but they're where they are in the standings for a reason. The Devils should do what they can to exploit their depth, which can be done far more easily as this game is in New Jersey.
No Roberto: Roberto Luongo will definitely not be the goaltender for Florida this evening. He got hurt in a loss to Carolina last week and he's not with the team for today's game or tomorrow's in Long Island. George Richards of the Miami Herald reported on Sunday at On Frozen Pond that Dan Ellis will get the start.
Ellis has appeared in four games for Florida and he has been beaten in all of them. He's conceded at least two goals per appearance and at least three in each three starts. Combined with his stats with Dallas, Ellis has an overall save percentage of 88.8%. His problems have been with stopping pucks all season long. The Devils forwards and those helping in the attack should have no fear of Ellis. The Devils should make a point of it to get pucks on frame - something they struggled a lot with on Saturday - and keep it simple. I don't think they need perfect plays and amazing looks to beat him. I think they just test him a lot and do simple things like crash the net and not pass up good shooting lanes they'll find success.
Stepping In: Stephen Gionta and Jon Merrill both left the Devils-Islanders game during the third period and did not return. I'm not sure what happened to Gionta, but if he's unable to play, then the answer is pretty simple. Jacob Josefson will be inserted back into the bottom six of the lineup. Merrill took a shot to the face and will require further evaluation. His status for tonight is unknown and that's a more interesting question. Bryce Salvador and Anton Volchenkov have been out of the lineup recently with injuries of their own. As Tom Gulitti noted on Sunday at Fire & Ice, the Devils may need to call up a defenseman. Adam Larsson seems like an obvious choice. However, he was held out of Albany's lineup on Sunday according to this tweet by Gulitti. If he's seriously hurt, then he won't be called up. If it was a precaution to be called up, then, well, he'll be called up. I'm not sure who would be in line for a call up after Larsson. Possibly Alexander Urbom? Seth Helgeson? Reece Scarlett? Maybe no one because Salvador may actually be OK? Other than that potential change, I would not expect any other Devils to come in or out of the lineup.
Feed These Two: Jaromir Jagr may have been held pointless in his last four games, but it's not for a lack of trying. He's been pushing the play forward and has taken 19 shots on net over those four games. He's going to break that pointless streak sooner rather than later by the way he's playing. As for someone who has been productive, look for Adam Henrique to keep getting the biscuit to put into the basket. He scored his 25th of the season on Saturday, it was his second straight game with a goal and his third with a point. I want to see #14 continue to fire away as I suspect he's getting hot again - if he's not already there now.
Either Way: I liked how Cory Schneider played in Long Island, shootout excepted. Given that this is a back-to-back against the basement dwellers of the Atlantic Division, I have no preference over who starts this game since the other will get another basement dweller.
Your Take: What do you expect to happen tonight? Can the Devils get off to a good start against a team that has been beaten a lot in first periods? Can the Devils bomb away on Dan Ellis? Can they get favorable match-ups to limit the damage that Bergenheim, Boyes, etc. can do? Can Jagr get a point? Please leave your answers and other thoughts about this game in the comments. Thank you for reading.