3/23 Pregame Primer: Devils vs. Panthers

Tomas Kopecky (Michael Miller/Wikimedia Commons) 

New Jersey Devils (14-11-6) vs. Florida Panthers (9-16-6) 7:00 pm Prudential Center, Newark, NJ

By Jeff O’Connor

It’s just over two months into the season and for the first time all year, the Devils will take on their quarterfinal foes from last year, the Florida Panthers.  Circumstances are much different this time around.  Last year, the Panthers were strong and had the Devils number.  This year, the Panthers are one of the worst teams in the league.  Their two best players in Stephen Weiss and Kris Versteeg are hurt.  The Versteeg injury is especially huge because he tortured NJ last year.

Plain and simple, this would be a very disappointing game to lose.  Even though Florida beat the Rangers the other night, that may actually help the Devils.  Pete DeBoer will use that game to help focus his troops that despite their standing, this team can beat anyone on any night.  They don’t have to win 5-0 tonight, but a nice, sound and clean game would be great to see.

Here are some thoughts for tonight’s game:

1) Convert on the PP.  Florida is DEAD LAST in the league in team defense and in penalty killing.  I feel like the movement on the power play has been better, but it’s still lacking the finish.  A PP goal, or maybe two, would go a long win in getting two points tonight.

2) What can Matt D’Agostini bring?  According to reports, D’Agostini will be a part of the top three lines so he should see some fair ice time.  No one is expecting him to lead this team, but what everyone should expect from him is to do little things that define Devils Hockey.  The hope is that he hustles, compete along the boards and smartly cycle the puck.  While he may be a 3rd liner tonight, I’m expecting him to be a fourth line guy come the playoffs.  If he turns out to be a competent piece, he can help out this fourth line when Zubrus and Ponikarovsky come back.

3) Same effort from D with Brodeur again?  This group allowed basically no shots after the first period ended.  Are they just that more confident and poised when Martin Brodeur is in the cage, or was Thursday just a one-time thing?  I think the answer is somewhere in between; they’re not as stifling as they were vs. the Canes and they are nowhere near the output on display while Marty was out.  They just need to be solid.

4) Make someone else besides Jonathan Huberdeau beat you.  This kid is a stud and is having a really nice rookie campaign.  He has 12 goals and 20 points in 31 games.  The Devils have never seen him before but he has put up a few highlight goals this season.  If the Panthers are going to get X number of goals, make it someone else on that depth-less roster.

Prediction:  Devils 4 Panthers 2

I think we’ll see another nice offensive output today, with several different goal scorers.  They really need to follow up Thursday’s great performance with another strong effort tonight.  It would be nice to play a thorough hockey game again, but it’s all about getting two points.

The Panthers best five forwards have anywhere from 6 to 12 goals for the season, meaning they essentially have no one on the bottom two lines.  Expect a BIG night from the CBGB’s.  I think that line can lead them to a win tonight.

As long as this team picks its time to pinch in, forechecks well and doesn’t give up high quality chances to the opposition, I expect them to dominant the tempo of play and control the scoreboard.

It’s time to get a winning streak going….Let’s Go New Jersey!!