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Game Preview #1: New Jersey Devils at Florida Panthers

The New Jersey Devils begin the 2016-17 regular season in Sunrise, Florida to play the Panthers. This game preview looks at both teams as they start their season.

Toronto Maple Leafs v New Jersey Devils
Welcome Kyle Palmieri and Cory Schneider among others to the 2016-17 regular season.
Photo by Adam Hunger/Getty Images

Welcome to the first Gamethread of the season!

The Matchup: The New Jersey Devils at the Florida Panthers (SBN Blog: Litterbox Cats)

The Time: 7:30 PM EST

The Broadcast: TV - MSG+; Radio - 660 AM & 101.9 FM WFAN

From The Last Devils-Panthers Game: Preseason? Who cares about the preseason now? Well, the Devils didn’t play well per Devin’s recap. But the big takeaway from that one was Jonathan Huberdeau. In that Sergey Kalinin accidentally caught his skate on his ankle and so he left the game with an injury. It was a significant one as Huberdeau has been ruled out for 3-4 months. Combined with Nick Bjugstad also on injured reserve with a broken hand, the Panthers are thinner up front to start the season.

The Goal: Learn from your errors in preseason. The Devils’ preseason performances often left something to be desired. They took a lot of penalties. They didn’t play disciplined on and off the puck. Their puck movement looked like the same from last season at times - and that’s no compliment. While a good number of those games could be ignored given that the team was not playing with a full "NHL quality" roster, the ones that did have them weren’t all that strong looking. And I know the team was playing the rust off as they went. Yet, there were some issues that the coaches identified in their practice - particularly the penalties - and worked on that in their own way (in the penalty case, punishment). So what I’d like to see tonight is that the team has realized what they should be doing in their game tonight. We’ll see whether they can be more successful in Sunrise than they were in West Point.

The Opening Night Devils: The last few days have been eventful for all 30 NHL teams as they had to meet the 23-man active roster and salary cap requirements by Tuesday. That meant a lot of talent hit waivers on Monday. The Devils were beneficiaries as they claimed P.A. Parenteau from the Islanders. C.J. had a post yesterday summarizing who he is and where he could fit. Being a right winger alone made him a wise pickup. A veteran who was actually productive and possession positive makes it even smarter. The best case scenario is that he’s this season’s Stempniak - a veteran who can shore up a scoring line and earn some serious trade value as the season goes on. At worst, he’s at least a body on the right side.

The move followed some other roster-related moves. Jon Merrill and Luke Gazdic were put on injured reserve as expected; we won’t likely see either until November. Surprisingly, Sergey Kalinin was put on IR for illness and Kyle Quincey was placed on it retrospective to last week for his lower body injury. Scott Wedgewood cleared waivers on Tuesday and was re-assigned to Albany. Defenseman Seth Helgeson was placed on waivers yesterday and should he clear (he likely will), he’ll go to Albany too. Lastly, Andreas Lindback was released from his professional try out deal.

So that all means that Yohann Auvitu, Steve Santini, Miles Wood, and Blake Speers all made it to the opening night roster. Congratulations to them.

The Opening Night Devils Lines?: According to Andrew Gross’ report from Wednesday’s practice at Fire & Ice, we may see the NHL debut of Speers and Wood skate at left wing tonight. Here are the lines that Gross reported:

Taylor Hall-Adam Henrique-Devante Smith-Pelly

Mike Cammalleri-Travis Zajac-Kyle Palmieri

Jacob Josefson-Pavel Zacha-P.A. Parenteau

Miles Wood-Vern Fiddler-Blake Speers

Reid Boucher and Beau Bennett were the odd men out. Given their past experience, it’s a little surprising that they won’t start the season. Maybe John Hynes will rotate them in on gameday; but it’s my understanding that what the lines are in practice informs what they’ll look like for the game for the next day. So we’ll see. As long as Speers doesn’t play more than nine games with New Jersey, a debut game or two isn’t a bad idea.

It’s also a little surprising to me that Devante Smith-Pelly was still up top with Taylor Hall and Adam Henrique. Given that Parenteau was signed by the Islanders in part to play on their top line, I would’ve thought he’d start with them. The Hall-Henrique-Smith-Pelly unit was used in the past few practices, so I can understand keeping them to at least start the first game. It’s a long season, I’m sure we’ll see Parenteau and others moved around the lineup. We may even see some shifts in the units during tonight’s game.

You’ll notice I didn’t include the defensemen. That’s because Gross reported all seven were in use, so it’s not clear who’s in or not. He did note that Andy Greene and Auvitu were used on power play units in practice. Greene is a safe bet to play every night. Auvitu on special teams in practice makes me think he’ll make his NHL debut tonight. With Quincey being placed on IR retroactive to October 5, he can be activated and play tonight. The defenseman told Gross on Tuesday that he’s good to go. I think he’ll be inserted into the lineup. Therefore, someone’s going to sit. Assuming Auvitu working on a power play unit means he’s in, Quincey being activated would mean he’s in (why activate him otherwise?), and knowing that Greene, Ben Lovejoy, Damon Severson, and John Moore won’t sit, then it looks to me that Steve Santini would be the odd man out. It’s a long season, the seventh defenseman will get games on this team.

As for the goaltenders, well, it’s Cory Schneider. Once again, the team will live and die largely on the play of Schneider. So it shall be Schneider doing the best he can again.

Your Opening Night Panthers: The Panthers will be opening their 2016-17 season at home with a banner to be raised for winning the Atlantic Division last season and plenty of optimism. George Richards at the Miami Herald wrote yesterday that today will mark the NHL debuts of forwards Shane Harper and Denis Malgin. They’ll join a roster with plenty of players for the Devils to be concerned about. While they’re certainly not at full strength with Huberdeau and Bjugstad on IR, Florida boasts an excellent center in Aleksander Barkov, the reliable veteran presence of Jussi Jokinen, the solid production of Reilly Smith and Vincent Trocheck, and the ageless wonder of Jaromir Jagr. Especially Jagr; I hope the Devils aren’t hoping they can body him in a cycle. He’ll just take the poor Devil to Jagr School. Anyway, while Harper and Malgin still have to establish themselves at this level, they’ll be up for this one. That may add to what Florida still features up front.

On defense, the main man is Aaron Ekblad. He’s only going to get better and that’s frightening for Florida’s opponents given he’s already a top-tier defenseman. What’s worse is that the team jumped on New York’s error and signed Keith Yandle. Yandle will likely get more minutes, more offensive situations, and more chances to be the threat he can be from the point. I think he’ll fit in nicely in place of Brian Campbell. Jason Demers and Mark Pysyk will be called on to replace what Dmitry Kulikov and Erik Gubranson provided to some degree. Pysyk still has something to prove; but Demers was a fine pick up back in July. All the same, Ekblad and Yandle are the more dangerous ones on Florida’s blueline. Especially when the Devils will be killing a penalty and when they get stuck in their own end. They’ll just keep plays going and contribute much either from distributing the puck or firing a shot themselves.

In net, there’s Roberto Luongo. Also known as the really good goalie who was in front of Schneider in the early part of his career with Vancouver. George Richards confirmed that he will start the game in this article in the Miami Herald on Wednesday. The 37-year old has had a long career of just stopping loads of pucks. Last season, he finished with a 93.7% at even strength, which was the second best percentage in the entire NHL among all goalies who made at least 30 appearances. From 2011-12 to 2015-16, Luongo has posted a 93% even strength save percentage in 254 games. That’s just ahead of Schneider and only three goalies posted a better mark while appearing in over 200 games. The point is that Luongo has been one of the best goalies in the world. He is to the Panthers what Schneider is to the Devils, only the Panthers have an effective offense (at least more so than the Devils).

All together, it’s a tough first game for the Devils. No game in the NHL is truly easy and I’m not saying the Devils are guaranteed to leave Sunrise, Florida holding a ‘L.’ But I am saying that this is a team that celebrated one division championship last season and they can do it again provided they aren’t in too deep of a hole without two top forwards.

An X Factor: Jonathan Marchessault may see more ice time than expected when he was signed. Someone’s got to receive more minutes with Huberdeau and Bjugstad out. Marchessault definitely made his mark when these two teams met in the final preseason game with a goal and two assists. So it may be him as he certainly made a mark in that one. Keep an eye on who he skates with; he could factor in tonight’s game more than one may think.

Milestone: Congratulations to Travis Zajac. He will be playing in his 700th regular season game tonight. Hopefully, Mike Cammalleri, Zajac, and Kyle Palmieri can get a good match up to make this milestone a happy night for #19 and the team.

One Last Thought: Want to know what we thought of the New Jersey Devils ahead of the 2016-17 season? We did an extensive season preview across eight different posts. Check it out here as the real games begin.

Your Take: Welcome back to the regular season. What do you think of tonight’s match up? Do you think Speers and/or Wood will get to play ahead of Boucher and/or Bennett tonight? Should they? What do you think the defense will look like? Who are you most concerned with on Florida’s roster? Who do you think wins tonight’s game? Please leave your answers and other thoughts about tonight’s game in the comments. Thank you for reading.