After getting their first win out their way, what will they do for an encore at Sunrise?
The Time: 7:00 PM EST
The Broadcast: TV - MSG+2; Radio - 660 AM WFAN
The Last Devils Game: On Thursday night, the Devils began the 2014-15 campaign in Philadelphia. They took on the Flyers in what would turn out to be a dramatic affair. The Devils took over ten minutes to get their first shot on net, but Michael Ryder scored shortly thereafter with a sick-nasty wrist shot over Steve Mason. The Devils extended their lead early in the second period with two deflections: Adam Henrique's shot going off Luke Schenn's skate and Mike Cammalleri re-directing a long shot from Jaromir Jagr. The Flyers upped their attack like a team down three should - and were rewarded. Claude Giroux made the Devils pay for their bad penalties by converting early on the Flyers' third power play. Wayne Simmonds got the Flyers level with a toe-drag around Jon Merrill to beat Cory Schneider clean with one minute left; and a power play conversion right in front within the final second of the period. But the Devils did not wilt. No, a lovely sequence of passes ended with Patrik Elias putting home a shot on Mason's flank to make it 4-3 early in the third. The Flyers counter-punched when Bryce Salvador got caught in the neutral zone allowing a 2-on-1 to develop. Vincent Lecavalier led it and finished it to make it 4-4 about fifteen seconds after Elias' goal. The Devils responded a couple of minutes later. Dainius Zubrus gained the zone and beat Mason shortside to make it 5-4. The Flyers tried to attack, the Devils almost made it 6-4, and the visitors did when Cammalleri put home an empty netter. First night. First rivalry game. First win. Second rate rivals. My recap of the game is here.
The Last Panthers Game: While the Devils were in Philly, the Florida Panthers took on their in-state rivals, the Tampa Bay Lightning. The game featured plenty of beef, including an uncalled cheap shot by Radko Gudas on Scottie Upshall. The scoring didn't get going until the second period. The visiting Panthers struck first when Erik Gudbranson hammered a slapshot from the center point right off a faceoff. The Lightning would respond on the power play minutes later when Tyler Johnson finished a great diagonal feed from Valteri Filppula. The Lightning would take the lead in the third period on another PPG, this time by Ryan Callahan. But Florida answered back minutes later thanks to an error by the Bolts. Jonathan Huberdeau was down low and attempted a pass across the crease. Gudas intercepted it but got caught up with Ben Bishop's pad. This got the puck loose and Huberdeau knocked the equalizer right in. The game required overtime and Florida was in a bad spot as Upshall hit Bishop and got called for goaltender interference at the end of regulation. The Lightning made the Panthers pay dearly. The three Panthers cleared the puck into Tampa's end and dashed for the long change. Bishop got the puck well ahead of the goal line and fired a pass up to Hedman along the far-side boards. With no Panthers in front of him, Hedman skated up and beat Roberto Luongo clean to take the second point. Todd Little has a recap of the gritty effort by the Panthers at Litter Box Cats.
The Goal: Make special teams count. The Devils had issues on special teams against Philadelphia. They took unnecessary penalties. They got burned for two power play goals and were forced to defend an entire two minutes with the same four skaters on a separate power play. They struggled to get anything going on their power play except for their last one. That said, I have more confidence that the Devils can fix their issues better than Florida. For one, Florida was rather poor at them last season. For another, the Panthers were just much worse in their first game. Their two power plays yielded a mere two shots on net. They conceded seven power plays to Tampa Bay, allowed eleven shots (a far higher rate than five for Philly on their five advantages), and conceded three power play goals. While that game was also a rivalry game with plenty reason for bad blood, it suggests to me that the Devils should take advantage of this aspect of the game. They could stand to be more disciplined; but I do think the Devils are closer to figuring it out based on not being bad at it last season and not being as bad at it in their first game. If they can do it, then tonight's game looks more promising.
The FloriDa Panthers: That D is capitalized for a reason because I like their group on paper. Yes, they conceded 32 shots for Luongo to stop, but even strength was closer at 21-19 shots. Of course, Corsi was 42-32 in favor of Tampa Bay (according to Natural Stat Trick) so it wasn't all that close from a possession perspective. Nevertheless, they have plenty of talented players on their blueline. Willie Mitchell and Brian Campbell have talent that belies their experience. Dmitry Kulikov and Erik Gudbranson have been emerging for years. 2014's first overall pick, Aaron Ekblad, made his debut and looked solid for the most part. OK, Kulikov-Mitchell got blown up in terms of Corsi but it is just one game. The larger point is that their blueline is more respectable than, say, Philadelphia's and the Devils need to make a point of it to respect that.
The Ex-Vancouver Matchup: The Devils held an optional practice on Friday, but Tom Gulitti did report at Fire & Ice that Cory Schneider will start tonight's game. It hasn't been announced as of this wrting of who's starting for Florida, but I would expect it to be Roberto Luongo. This is the sort of matchup that will make Canucks fans - you know who you are - sigh. Both weren't bad in their first games, both faced upwards of 30 shots, and both could have been a bit better. Both should be solid regardless given their pedigree. Ten goals between two teams isn't common these days; I doubt you'll see it again tonight.
Will We See Changes?: One of the criticisms about Thursday's game was the defensive performance of the skaters. Yes, the Flyers were down as much as three goals but allowing 39 shots isn't really acceptable. Bryce Salvador was actually solid in possession but he was exposed for his lack of speed, he was picked on the PK, and getting caught in the neutral zone that led to a two-on-one for a goal against. This is unfortunately not news and he's not coming out of the lineup. Damon Severson looked OK, but he and Andy Greene got punished-in-possession behind the Henrique and Stephen Gionta lines. Did Severson play so badly that it commands a switch with Adam Larsson? Did Jon Merrill and Eric Gelinas do anything to warrant sitting for Larsson? I think the answer to both may be no, but we'll see.
The fourth line of Gionta, Jordin Tootoo, and Tuomo Ruutu were largely ineffective. Sure, Henrique, Ryder, and Ryane Clowe had to play a lot of defense too but that unit at least provided two goals. The Gionta unit did next to nothing on offense and conceded a lot on defense. Definitely didn't achieve the goal of the CBGB line from the past two seasons: allow little at both ends. I would like to see at least Damien Brunner draw in for Tootoo. It would allow the fourth line more leeway to attack. It could give Ruutu more to do. Brunner may be inspired to prove DeBoer and the coaching staff that he deserves a regular spot. Given that the Panthers' forward depth is worth testing, I think tonight would be a good night to try that out. We could see Jacob Josefson come in for Gionta, but I would be satisfied with just a more offensive player (Brunner) coming in. It's not like Josefson brings so much more to the table on offense than Gionta.
Be Aware of Barkov: Aleksander Barkov led the Florida forwards in ice time on Thursday night, saw plenty against the Lightning's best, and came out ahead in possession. He didn't register a shot on net, but was present for five from his teammates at evens and seven in all situations so he helped the cause. I understand it's only one game, but it's telling that Florida coach Gerard Gallant has utilized him that much already. With the Panthers enjoying the last line change, don't be surprised if Travis Zajac's line or Patrik Elias' line sees plenty of him. If that wasn't enough, Jussi Jokinen and Huberdeau were his common linemates in Tampa Bay. That's a dangerous trio if they get space to work with.
Lastly: I mentioned it in the recap to the last game and briefly here, but I really do want to see better discipline from the Devils. I can sort of sympathize with a referee being a stickler on some nights. But in Philadelphia, the fouls were just silly. Henrique hooked Nicklas Grossman's hands after the defender recovered a power play dump-in. Tootoo took a slash after that line got pinned again. Elias got hand as the Flyers rushed on an attack. Clowe took out Streit on his own blueline in front of the ref in the dying minutes of the second period. NHL referees have been calling stick-to-glove contact since 2005 so it's just really annoying to see it multiple times in the game game. I'd like to see that not become a trend by seeing less of it tonight.
Your Take: Will the Devils keep up their winning ways or will they drop points in Sunrise tomorrow night? Will the Devils make changes to their lineup? I'd pay attention to Gulitti throughout the day for that. Please leave your answers and other thoughts about tonight's game in the comments. Thank you for reading.