The New Jersey Devils concluded their 5 game home stand with a 4-1 record: they lost to LA, shutout Our Hated Rivals, beat the Islanders, shutout the best team in the league, and pulled off a dramatic win over the second best team in the league. It was quite exciting. Now, the Devils go onto the road for their next three games and their biggest opponent in those three games are the Florida Panthers.
As far as I know now, Brendan Shanahan and Paul Martin are day-to-day, as reported today by Gulitti. They have traveled with the team to Florida. If they aren't going to play against the Panthers, I imagine they'll get the Tampa Bay game on Thursday. Before the game starts, I'll add in the updated information either here or in a comment.
I worry about the Devils in this one for two reasons. The first reason has to do with their recent performance. Yes, they won their last 4 games. That's really the important thing. The league is a results-oriented business, and you can't do much better than 4 wins in the last 4 games. Still, there were flaws in these performances - mostly with puck possession and movement, but more recently with just stupid, avoidable mistakes such as penalties or defensive lapses. The team seems to be aware of this, at least. The biggest lapse was Greene getting caught puck watching, which led to Jonathon Cheechoo making him pay the price. Gulitti asked Greene and Sutter about it, and they recognize the error. That's good.
However, it's been somewhat of a problem over the last few games. I hope by being aware of this, the Devils will do a better job in making sure they don't give the Florida Panthers too many opportunities.
This leads me to the second reason for my concern. The Panthers are currently seventh in the East with a record of 28-20-8. That's 64 points, 5 behind the fourth place Philadeplhia Flyers and 3 clear of the ninth place Carolina Hurricanes. What I'm trying to say that the teams in the East currently sitting in spots #4 through #10 are so close that a good streak or a bad run could make the difference between making the playoffs and missing it. It's almost March and with a trade deadline coming up, these teams are going to (or should be!) stepping up their games. The latest at On Frozen Pond (Miami Herald) has the conference standings for your reference.
What I'm saying is that the Panthers have a lot to gain in this one. They lost to Washington 4-2, and that hurts the team. As Whale4Ever at Litter Box Cats pointed out in the preview - they are all playoff games now for Florida. The Panthers haven't been to the postseason in a long time and a win over the hot New Jersey Devils would be great for their cause of making it this season. The Rangers are floundering, Montreal is doing I don't know what, and the Panthers can make a move. I expect them to skate their socks off tonight. Honestly, they have been pretty strong with a 7-3-0 record in their last 10 games. Only the Devils can claim a better record in their last 10 in the NHL.
The guy on the Panthers the Devils really need to watch out doesn't exist. A quick look at the top scorers show that the leader is Stephen Weiss with 39 points. Yet, the scoring has been a team effort. They have 8 players with at least 10 goals (the Devils have 8, though, some more prolific than others); and the leader there is David Booth with 20. OK, so the Panthers won't overwhelm the Devils with goals; but that tells me it could be any one of these guys. It could be Cory Stillman on Tuesday. It could be Michael Frolik. It could even be Jay Bouwmeester or Bryan McCabe (Related Fact: The Devils have 0 defensemen with 5+ goals; the Panthers have 2 with 10 or more.).
As far as the Devils go: keep an eye on David Clarkson. He had a fantastic game against San Jose with 2 goals, including the game winning tip-in. It'll be interesting to see whether it was just a great game or the start of a great streak. Also, keep an eye on the NHL's #1 star of the past week: Zach Parise. But then you should keep your eyes on him anyway. The Panthers defense certainly will.
Litter Box Cats is your SBN blog of tonight's opponent. He will have a preview from the Panthers' point of view. This is the GameThread for today's game on the Devils game. As always, feel free to leave a comment before, during, and after the game. Just keep it clean, keep it Devils-relevant, and Go Devils.
GULITTI UPDATE: Paul Martin and Brendan Shanahan will not play tonight. Expect the same line up from the Sharks game. Andy Greene, it's time to redeem yourself!