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Game 30 Preview: New Jersey Devils vs. Florida Panthers - 12/11/2009

The Time: 7 PM EST

The Broadcasting Info: TV: MSG+ (IN HD); Radio: 660 AM WFAN

The Matchup: The New Jersey Devils (21-7-1) vs. the Florida Panthers (11-14-6)

The Last Devils Game: The Devils started off well enough; but then for some inexplicable reason, the Devils let up on their defending, allowing the Canes to build momentum.  Ultimately, they pulled within one from being down as most as 3-0, but the Devils held on to win 3-2.   As I stated in my recap, it wasn't a great win, but it is a win.

The Last Panthers Game: Not much went right for the Panthers on Wednesday.  The Columbus Blue Jackets hosted the Panthers and just torched them 3-0.  As Whale4Ever noted today, the team is now 1-5-4, missed a chance to gain ground in the Southeast Division, and has a goal differential of -8 in their last 4 games.

The Last Devils-Panthers Game:  So long ago, the Devils were a team that was 1-2 and had no regulation wins in the season. Then the Devils visited the Florida Panthers.   It wasn't perfect.  Mistakes were made by the Devils. But the power play converted twice, with David Clarkson scoring that all-important go-ahead goal with a tip late in the game.   I recapped the Devils' first regulation win here; for the Florida side, DolPhanDave noted how frustrating the loss was for the Panthers faithful.

The Goal: 60 minutes will get you two points.  This is actually a good goal for both teams.  It's a bit odd to say that the goal for a team that has won four straight (the Devils) is the same for a team that has one win in their last ten games (the Panthers).  However, the Devils haven't put in a good, solid, consistent performance in those four wins except for the win at Buffalo on Monday; and the Panthers just fell flat in losing to Columbus 3-0.   Both teams should strive to put out a hard-working, smart effort and - this is especially crucial for the Devils - not let up until the game is truly out of doubt.  And, no, being up by 2 goals after the first or second period doesn't count - especially considering the Devils have won games despite being down two goals.   It may be a cliche, but that doesn't mean it is irrelevant.

For a Florida take, check out Litter Box Cats (a.k.a. The Litter Box) later on. Read on for my further thoughts.

I'm not going to delve further in what I want to see from the Devils tonight outside what I said for the goal.  It's as plain as I'd like it to be - a full-game effort.  That means not letting up on defense, not holding back on offense, and not allowing Florida to outwork the Devils. 

With respect to the Devils' lineup, the only real question should be whether the starting goaltender will be Martin Brodeur or Yann Danis.  None of the reports from either Chere or Gulitti call out who will be in net tonight.  Jacques Lemaire was asked, and here's his response per Gulitti:

Martin Brodeur has started the last eight games and played in 15 consecutive games. Devils coach Jacques Lemaire was vague when asked about when he might start Danis next.

"One day he’ll play. He will play," Lemaire said. "I’m looking at when Marty could be tired. This is what I’m looking at. If Marty gets a lot of shots, a lot of work and we’ve been playing quite a bit, he’s got to rest."

I personally think Danis should get this game if only so Martin Brodeur can focus fully on Philadelphia.  After all, if 4 games in 6 days isn't enough of a workload in a week, then I really question where else Danis would be likely to play.  And I don't see Brodeur not starting against a rival. That said, it's been some time since Brodeur even saw 30 shots in a game, so I don't think playing him would be overworking him either.  I'm interpreting Lemaire's quote that Brodeur isn't necessarily tired so don't be too surprised if you see #30 starting in net at the Rock tonight.

With respect to the rest of the lineup, well, I don't think it'll change.  Per that same article from Gulitti, Pierre-Luc Letourneau-Leblond is back from a conditioning stint, but I doubt he'll be in tonight since the team has played so well.  How well? Per Chere, the Devils have had their best start in franchise history.  Considering all the injured Devils that were out and continue to be out, that is a massive accomplishment.  So the lineup for Florida should remain what we have seen against Carolina, complete with Vladimir Zharkov and Jamie Langenbrunner swapping right wing spots.  Here's my guess:

Zach Parise - Travis Zajac - Nicklas Bergfors
Brian Rolston - Patrik Elias - Vladimir Zharkov
  Jay Pandolfo - Rob Niedermayer - Jamie Langenbrunner
Rod Pelley - Dean McAmmond - Ilkka Pikkarainen

Andy Greene - Bryce Salvador
Colin White - Mike Mottau
  Mark Fraser - Johnny Oduya

Yann Danis
Martin Brodeur

Thanks to Litter Box Cats, it's been revealed by the official site that Scott Clemmensen will be starting for Florida tonight.  He should get a warm reception before the fans openly and vocally hope he is shelled by pucks over and over. I would hope the Devils offense really gives Clemmensen plenty of work; his current statline suggests the Devils would find plenty of success that way:

2009 - Scott Clemmensen 9 434 4 3 29 4.01 242 213 .880 0

The Florida Panthers have been in dire straits with only 4 goals scored in their last 4 games and giving up 12 in the same time frame.  Statistically, the team numbers are awful for Florida.   They are tied with Nashville for the fifth lowest goals scored per game average of 2.48.  They currently have the fourth highest goals against per game average of 3.28.   The Panthers average 28.6 shots per game (25th in the NHL) while allowing the most shots against per game in the NHL with 35.1.   Their special teams are particularly weak: the Panthers' power play has been weak at 15.2% (27th in the NHL) and the Panthers' penalty kill has the second lowest success rate in the NHL at 76.4%.

Of course, Carolina had similarly awful team stats as well and that didn't mean much on Wednesday night. Still, these numbers should clue you in to how bad the Panthers have been.   With respect to scoring threats, the Panthers have three notable forwards the Devils' defense should be aware of:

2009 - Nathan Horton 31 8 17 25 2 28 4 0 1 0 65 12.3
2009 - Stephen Weiss 31 13 11 24 -5 8 4 0 0 0 69 18.8
2009 - Steven Reinprecht 31 10 13 23 5 4 1 0 1 0 56 17.9

The production by Florida players drop off after these three (Bryan McCabe is fourth on the team with 3 goals and 12 assists)  They will likely carry Florida's offense and so the Devils should be particularly aware when they're on the ice.

Of course, if the Devils play solid and smart hockey for the full 60 minutes, then they should be able to do just that. Should the Devils let up in one particular aspect, the opposition will take advantage - be it the Carolina Hurricanes, the Panthers, the Philadelphia Flyers, the Washington Capitals, whoever - and make the Devils pay for it.  It nearly happened in the last two home games, I hope it doesn't happen again tonight.

Check out Litter Box Cats for their take on tonight's game.  Check up on Chere and Gulitti for any gameday updates, such as who will be starting for the Devils in net.   I'll throw up a GameThread prior to the game.  Please leave all your thoughts, concerns, and any tales of news about tonight's game in the comments in the meantime. Go Devils!