Welcome to the end of preseason.
The Matchup: The New Jersey Devils (3-4-0) at the Florida Panthers (1-2-2; SBN Blog: Litter Box Cats)
The Time: 7:30 PM EST
The Broadcast: Fox Sports - Florida will have this game on. That’s the road team’s feed. No word on whether the Devils will have a feed of their own or whether MSG will piggyback on FS-F’s work like they did with the Philly game last Wednesday.
The Last Devils Game: The Devils took on the Islanders at the Rock on Wednesday night. The first period was up tempo from both teams and featured plenty of up-and-down action. The Isles struck first shortly after a power play ended. Alan Quine led a two-on-one and beat Cory Schneider with shot to make it 0-1. Late in the first, Ben Lovejoy jumped up from the point to retrieve a puck at the left sideboards. He fired a shot that trickled through Thomas Greiss that tied up the game. In the second period, the Isles went on the attack and got a few shots whereas the Devils needed over seven minutes to get their first on Greiss in the period. Not too long after that first shot, Taylor Hall made a stop in the neutral zone. He fed the puck to Adam Henrique, who stormed in alone on Greiss and went around him for a very pretty goal. Alas, the lead was lost when Andrew Ladd jammed in a short rebound right on Schneider’s doorstep to convert one of the seven power plays the Isles would get all night long. After a poor second, the Devils showed a little more life in their attack. However, a pinch by Lovejoy wasn’t covered by another Devil properly. The Isles were able to get a quick counter attack going and another odd man rush. Anthony Beauvillier fired one in shortside (I think) to make it 2-3. The Devils tried to find an equalizer but they couldn’t get much offense going - just as they struggled throughout the second and third periods. My recap of the loss is here.
The Last Panthers Game: The Panthers planned to play Tampa Bay on Thursday but due to Hurricane Matthew coming to the state, they postponed that game. So their last game was on Tuesday in Dallas when they played the Stars. The Stars got off to a strong start, out-shooting the Panthers 14-5. However, there were no goals. The play was more even and filled with penalties - 5 to be exact - between both teams in the second period. There were no goals. In the third period, Paul Thompson opened the game’s scoring to put Florida up 1-0. However, Jamie Benn didn’t just make his preseason debut to not have an impact. No, he set up Patrick Eaves for a power play goal to tie up the game in the third. The score held through regulation and overtime. The shootout itself was extended to five rounds since no one scored. Denis Gurianov of Dallas did score in the fifth round. Dryden Hunt could not match it so Florida lost 1-2 by way of the shootout. Todd Little has this recap of the loss at Litter Box Cats.
The Dress Rehearsal: Last night, Andrew Gross reported at Fire & Ice that the Devils demoted Joseph Blandisi and Nick Lappin while noting that Luke Gazdic will be placed on injured reserve when the season starts. While this may be a paper move for one of them (Gazdic going on IR opens up a spot), that the team made this move ahead of any other cuts suggests that they’re not going to be involved tonight.
Based on Andrew Gross’ report from practice, they weren’t likely to play anyway. The same would apply to Miles Wood and Blake Speers, both of whom are still on the roster. All four men were on the fifth forward line in practice and that’s usually reserved for players who won’t be participating in the next game. Unless the coaches change their mind, it appears that these four lines will get some ice time to prove whether they can be the starting four lines for the first regular season game:
Taylor Hall-Adam Henrique-Devante Smith-Pelly
Mike Cammalleri-Travis Zajac-Kyle Palmieri
Reid Boucher-Pavel Zacha-Beau Bennett
Jacob Josefson-Vern Fiddler-Sergey Kalinin
On paper, I think this is a fine way to start the season. It consists of the team’s best twelve forwards on paper and they’re reasonably constructed. The Henrique and Zajac lines are scoring lines. Reid Boucher and Pavel Zacha may provide enough talent to pass as a third scoring-type line on some nights. The fourth line features more useful players than just "energy" guys in the lineup that we endured for most of last season. They’re likely able to chip in some more points too. I’m fine with this.
What’s still up in the air are the guys in the back. Since Schneider played in all three periods on Wednesday, I believe the plan is that he’ll get two periods tonight. Will the backup getting one period be a sign that he is the backup for the season or that he needs to do well to secure the job? Who that is, I don’t know. It could be Keith Kinkaid, Scott Wedgewood, or, surprisingly still here on a PTO, Anders Lindback. On defense, Gross did not identify any pairings. He did note that Kyle Quincey was not at practice due to a lower body injury. With Merrill also on the shelf, the Devils have seven defensemen available. We’ll see who’s the odd man out and whether whoever is not makes the most of this last opportunity. I wouldn’t expect Quincey to play, for what it’s worth.
The Goal: All the same, the expectation and goal for this game is for the players on the ice to play the way John Hynes wants them to play. This game won’t count the minute it’s over, but the performances will show to the coaches what else needs to be adjusted, tweaked, and addressed ahead of next Thursday’s season opener in Florida. That said, the biggest goal for the Devils tonight would be to display better discipline. Both in terms of following the plan and not taking so many penalties. They lacked this on Wednesday. As for the penalties, the Devils have taken upwards of five calls in multiple games. A fairly strong lineup undercut their own effort in part because they took nine penalties and gave their opposition seven power plays. While they held them to only one power play goal, it hurt the Devils’ cause and forced the coaches to really mix it up on their PK to avoid leaning too much on certain players. That irritated Hynes the most, to the point that punishment was doled out when someone would commit a penalty during a practice. Gross confirmed that in this Fire & Ice post. We’ll see if that focus pays off tonight. If they can, then more of the players can have the chance to put on a better performance. Then, the team can look far better than they did on Wednesday.
The Other Side: This game is a big one for Florida. They set up this game to be in West Point. According to George Richards of the Miami Herald, the team are likely to announced a new team captain today. Most of all, this is their last preseason game too. Richards notes the team has 25 players on their roster. So for those still on the bubble, this game is important to them. Todd Little at Litter Box Cats has a run down of who’s been around since the last set of cuts. Both Richards and Little note that Nick Bjugstad’s broken hand means he’ll go on IR and that’s one less cut to make. Richards’ article and this post by Little states that defenseman Thomas Schemitsch has been signed to an ELC and assigned to their AHL team in Springfield. So for Paul Thompson, Shane Halpin, Denis Malgin, and Ian McCoshen, this is a big one. For the others that are more secure on the roster, their goal is to play to their game plan and get ready for the season. While preseason results aren’t important, I can’t imagine the Panthers staff are pleased with four winless games in a row. They did keep it close with Dallas on Tuesday, so it’s not like they’ve been awful. I’d like to think they’ll want to finish strong.
One More Thing: These two teams will face each other off on October 13, which is the first game of the season for both teams. I don’t think NHL coaches hold anything back, but if there’s one game tape to save for early part of the season, then I’m sure it’ll be this one for both teams. Should the Devils come out flat or just have an uneven performance, then it’ll be a good learning tool to fix things for when the games start counting.
Your Take: This is the final preseason game. What do you think of who’s left in New Jersey? Do you think these forward lines will be the lines to start the season? Who needs to have a good game on defense? Who will be Schneider’s back up? What do you want to see out of the Devils? Please leave your comments and other thoughts about this game in the comments. Thank you for reading.