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Game Preview #9: New Jersey Devils at Florida Panthers

The New Jersey Devils begin a road trip by re-visiting their first opponents of the season: the Florida Panthers. This game preview looks at who’s dangerous on Florida and touches on the Devils’ situation.

New Jersey Devils v Florida Panthers
Pro Tip: Don’t leave Jaromir Jagr alone with the goalie. Even if it is Cory Schneider (who stopped this shot).
Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images

Tonight kicks off a three-game-in-four-night road trip back where it all began three weeks ago: Sunrise, Florida.

The Matchup: The New Jersey Devils (4-2-2) at the Florida Panthers (4-5-1; SBN Blog: Litter Box Cats)

The Time: 7:30 PM EST

The Broadcast: TV - MSG+ 2 ; Radio - 660 AM & 101.9 FM WFAN

The Last Devils Game: Last Saturday, the Devils hosted Tampa Bay. Like the Devils-Lightning game earlier in this season, the Devils scored two goals in the first period. Adam Henrique did well to handle the puck going into the zone and beat Andrei Vasilevskiy with a quick shot for the first goal. For the second goal, Henrique took a shot from the high slot area and a down-low Damon Severson slammed in the rebound. Unlike the Devils-Lightning game earlier in this season, the Devils survived a wave of Tampa Bay offense for the first half of the second period and scored a third goal. Nick Lappin earned his first NHL point when he sent a pass to Devante Smith-Pelly in the slot. While Braydon Coburn tried to tie up the forward, DSP was able to get his stick down to re-direct the puck past the goalie. A few minutes later, the Devils just swarmed Tampa Bay and looked to be closer to scoring a fourth goal before Tampa Bay scored one. Early in the third period, the visitors would score one. Tyler Johnson hit a one-timer past Cory Schneider. But while the Devils’ offense faded away, Tampa Bay struggled to beat Schneider again. Amazingly, with about 3:11 of time left in regulation the Lightning struggled to attack with an extra skater. The Devils held on to win 3-1, completing a home stand where they went 3-0-1.

The Last Panthers Game: Florida took on Boston on Tuesday night. The B’s went up first with a goal by Brad Marchand. Reilly Smith fouled him on a breakaway, so Marchand was awarded a penalty shot. He made it count make it 0-1. Florida came out hard, challenging Tuukka Rask with plenty of shots. Rask got them all. In the second period, during a penalty kill, Dominic Moore flung up a sharp-angled shot that seemingly hit the cross bar. Upon further review, it definitely hit a bar - the back-bar of the net. That’s an impressive shorthanded goal and it put Boston up 01. In the third period, Florida would continue to throw pucks at Rask. Denis Malgin was the only one who had a shot beat Rask. It was his first NHL goal. Unfortunately, Rask would allow nothing else. Florida lost 1-2. Todd Little has this recap at Litter Box Cats.

The Last Devils-Panthers Game: The Devils visited Florida for the first game in each other’s seasons. The Panthers looked quicker on the attack to start and were rewarded with a fluke. A shot by Jonathan Marchessault was saved by Schneider, the rebound hit off Ben Lovejoy, and the ricocheted puck went into the net. The Devils would match this goal with something more legitimate. Yohann Auvitu kept the puck in the zone on the line, received it back from Pavel Zacha, and fired a slapshot. P.A. Parenteau got a piece of the shot, which then went past Roberto Luongo. The Devils tied it up 1-1 late in the first. The score would stand as both Luongo and, especially, Schneider played very well. Both were in mid-season form and the Devils really needed Schneider to stop as much as he could. Overtime would be necessary to decide this one. It would end after Michael Matheson bowled over Damon Severson behind his own net and won the puck. Matheson went around the left of the net, slid a cross-slot pass past Kyle Palmieri and Schneider, and Aleksander Barkov was in the right position to one-time the puck into the net. The Devils earned their first point of the season, but would do so in a 1-2 loss. My recap of the loss is here. For the other side, Todd Little has this more complete recap of the game at Litter Box Cats.

The Goal: Control the puck in transition. Breakouts and moving the puck forward through the neutral zone are crucial to how a team attacks. Whether it’s at 5-on-5 or a man advantage situation, being able to maintain possession while heading towards the opposition allows for the puck carrying team to go on offense while ensuring the defending team has to defend. This is true of all teams. This is true in hockey. And this was an aspect of the game where the Devils got into trouble in their last game against Florida. Turnovers, missed passes, defended passes, stick-checks, and so forth not only helped dull what the Devils were trying to do to Florida, but they allowed the Panthers forwards to attack even more. The last thing the Devils want to do tonight is to give a line like Marchessault-Barkov-Jagr more opportunities to go on offense. If the Devils want to come out of Sunrise with a better result than they did on October 13, then they’ll need to be better in this regard. The good news is that the Devils demonstrated that they can do this for four of the last six regulation periods they played in. The hope is that they can do it for three - even if they have a lead in that third period.

The New Seventh Man: Steve Santini started the season on the New Jersey active roster, but he has not made an appearance for the Devils. After two weeks, he was sent back to Albany for a game, recalled, sent back, and he has remained since. According to Pete Dougherty of the Albany Times Union, Santini has an upper body injury. New Jersey wanted a seventh defenseman for the road trip so they called up Vojtech Mozik. Andrew Gross has a post on that at Fire & Ice here.

Mozik played seven games last season and really didn’t do too much. Despite some of the defensive miscues and general play, John Hynes has used the same six defensemen. Therefore, I’m not expecting Mozik to play unless someone is banged up. I suppose that’s his purpose. He is a right-handed shot so if, say, Kyle Quincey continues to take poor penalties and has a rough night, Mozik can come right into the lineup that way. I would not expect to see him tonight, though.

The New Right Wing is a Left Wing: From Andrew Gross’ report of Tuesday’s practice, Michael Cammalleri was skating at right wing with Taylor Hall and Travis Zajac. Cammalleri has been used primarily as a left wing in New Jersey and with previous teams. However, he was a right winger for Montreal and, more recently, he was moved up to play on the right side with Hall and Zajac in the 3-1 win over Tampa Bay. That decision on Saturday worked out and Cammalleri himself had a very good night. It’s not at all a bad idea to try it out. If it does work out tonight and for a few more games, then that alleviates the Devils’ thinness at right wing.

Cammalleri was not the only one on his off-wing. P.A. Parenteau was shifted to the left side on a line with Adam Henrique and Kyle Palmieri. I’m trying to recall if he was also in that combination at some point in Saturday’s game. If he was, that may speak to how well it worked out. In this follow-up post by Gross, Parenteau admitted that he did have some experience on the left side from his time in Montreal. We’ll see if it is an effective move. I’d rather try that out than have Palmieri play on his off-wing for what its worth. I do hope that Parenteau-Henrique-Palmieri are prepared for a lot of Florida’s top line. If I were Gerard Gallant, I would prefer that match-up on defense than dealing with Hall, Zajac, and Cammalleri. Since Florida is at home, they can go for that matchup.

As for the rest of the Devils’ lineup, it looks to be the same from Saturday. The bottom two lines are. I would expect the defensive pairings to be the same. Cory Schneider will get another night of Jagr, Barkov, Marchessault, Vincent Trochek, and Reilly Smith up front to go with blasts from distance by Keith Yandle, Aaron Ekblad, and Jason Demers. Hopefully, the Devils are able to help Schneider out as much as possible.

Forget X-Factor, He’s A Factor: Way back on October 13, I named Jonathan Marchessault as a ‘X-factor’ at forward in my preview of the Devils’ first game against Florida. With injuries to Nick Bjugstad and Jonathan Huberdeau, Marchessault was moved up the forward depth chart and played on a line with Barkov and Jagr. Marchessault heard opportunity knocking and greeted it with a feast for opportunity and all of its friends. The 25-year old forward leads Florida and is tied for seventh in the entire NHL in scoring with six goals and five assists. In ten games, he has put up 33 shots on net; that leads his team and it is a great average of over three shots per game. If you go to Corsica, you’ll learn he has an expected goals rate of 5.66 (fourth on team) and an expected goals for per 60 minutes of 2.69 (fifth). The NHL has named him the Third Star of the Month of October, trailing Connor McDavid and Shea Weber. For someone who broke the two-game mark last season with seven goals and eighteen points in 45 games, this is very impressive. Marchessault is hot now, but he’s not a passenger on a line with Jagr and Barkov. No, he’s helped make that line be one of the more dangerous ones in the NHL. It’ll be imperative for the Devils to limit them as much as possible. That’s easier said than done given Barkov’s skill, Marchessault’s excellent run of play, and Jagr’s Jagr-ness.

Be Careful of the Second Line, Too: The second line on Florida, per Left Wing Lock, is Colton Sceviour, Vincent Trocheck, and Reilly Smith. That’s not a line to sneeze at. According to Corsica, that line is 54.97%, 56.91%, and 56.33% Corsi For, respectively. Or, sixth, first, and second respectively in that category among all Panthers. Yes, it’s only ten games into the season, but in those ten games, they’ve been mostly winning their matchups and generating offense. On the scoresheet, Sceviour is second on the team in points (five goals, two assists, 23 shots) and Trocheck is tied for third (four goals, one assist, 26 shots). Smith is behind at only one goal and two assists; but with 21 shots and linemates like those, the points will come for him. Even if the Zajac line doesn’t get the Barkov line, the Trocheck unit is not one to discount.

A Different X-Factor: Consider Florida’s defense. Keith Yandle is very good at both ends. Aaron Ekblad is a budding young stud on defense. Jason Demers brings a lot of solid experience to the table. But the X-factor among them is Matheson. You mayu remember him putting Severson on his wallet and then setting up the overtime winner in the Devils’ first game of this season. Matheson has added two goals and an assist since then along with nineteen shots. The rookie has been skating alongside Jason Demers for most of this season. Based on this WOWY at Puckalytics, it’s been a good pairing. The Devils will see plenty of him, they have to be aware of him among the more-notable defenders on Florida. If he keeps it up, he’ll join their notoriety.

What’s Up with This: Roberto Luongo has been an excellent shot-stopper throughout his career. The start to this season, well, not so much. Luongo currently has an even strength save percentage of 92.4%. While that’s not necessarily bad - it is only seven games - it is at the lower end compared to most of what he has posted in his career. His save percentage of 84.2% in penalty killing situations is not helping much either. Backup James Reimer has been better at evens and much worse when Florida had to kill penalties. It’s so early in the season that it is reasonable to think both will rebound in PK situations and that Luongo will improve his even strength save percentage number. After all, Luongo was excellent against New Jersey three weeks ago. He can do it again.

Not Much of a Disadvantage: Speaking of the PK, I would expect that to bounce back too. Given Chicago has been so, so, so, so awful, some teams haven’t had that much notice paid to their PK issues. Florida would be one of them. They currently a success rate of 78.6% (22 kills out of 28). I wouldn’t expect the Devils to pounce on them. That low success rate is driven mostly by their PK on the road. At home, they’ve killed 11 out of 12. Plus. they have one of the lowest 4-on-5 SA/60 rates in the NHL per Corsica (37.48, second best in NHL). Their overall rate should improve in time; I would expect Luongo/Reimer to stop more pucks and I doubt the road PK is going to stay that low given how well they’ve been at home. The tactics and formations should be about the same. In any case, I would not expect the Devils’ own power play (23.1% success rate at 6-for-26, 11th highest rate in the NHL) to really run all over them.

One Last Thought: Congratulations in advance to Pavel Zacha. He is with the New Jersey Devils and is expected to center a line with Beau Bennett and Devante Smith-Pelly. This is notable because it will be his ninth NHL game. Should he play one more game - Saturday at Tampa Bay - then his entry level contract would begin this season. According to this Monday post at Fire & Ice by Andrew Gross, John Hynes has said that he will stay with New Jersey. What this means is that the Devils coaches and management are satisfied with how he has developed and how he has performed that they are willing to keep him around. Zacha’s play has been good through October. He’s more than kept up with the pace of the game, he’s been utilized in multiple situations, and the physical play has not been a detriment - Zacha has been willing to get into that too. He belongs.

The next notable number for him is 40. If he’s on New Jersey’s roster for 40 games (he doesn’t have to play, just be on the roster), then he’ll be able to his free agency one year earlier. As of now, I would expect him to hit that mark too.

Your Take: The New Jersey Devils will get a re-match at the rink of their first loss of this season. Will they be able to leave Sunrise with a win? How will they score more goals than the other team to do just that? Can the Devils slow down either of Florida’s top two lines? Can they pick on a PK that hasn’t been so hot? Please leave your answers and other thoughts about tonight’s game in the comments. Thank you for reading.