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Game Preview #31: New Jersey Devils vs. Florida Panthers

The bleeding stops tonight.

Florida Panthers v New Jersey Devils
The last time the Devils played Florida, Yegor Sharangovich scored a hat trick.
Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

The Matchup: The New Jersey Devils (21-7-2; L10: 5-3-2) versus the Florida Panthers (14-13-4; L10: 4-5-1). SBN Blog: Litter Box Cats

The Time: 7:30 PM (not 7:00)

The Broadcast: TV - MSG+/MSGSN

Brunette Knows (Or Should Know)

There were a couple times last season where the struggling Devils team put up big numbers on the Florida Panthers. Andrew Brunette, now Lindy Ruff’s chief offensive assistant, was the head coach for the Panthers at the time. The first such game was when the Devils had not yet collapsed - they beat Brunette’s Panthers 7-3 to move to 6-3-2 last November. But then the Devils did collapse, and when Yegor Sharangovich scored a hat trick on the Panthers before the second period had even ended, the Devils still coughed up a four goal lead as Andrew Hammond blew the game in overtime in a 7-6 loss.

So Andrew Brunette, I would say, made an interesting career move to take on the New Jersey Devils as an offensive assistant and power play coach. To that end, he does have some work to do, still, with the power play. The Devils currently have a slightly below average power play despite running what seems to be the best five-on-five team in the league. Some of this has to do with personnel. For example, Tomas Tatar averages 1:38 of power play ice time per game and has not scored a 5v4 point in 50 such minutes. Miles Wood also has 0 power play points in 1:32 of 5v4 ice time per game. Erik Haula has just three points in the same average time as Wood. Meanwhile, notice who they have lined up for the second power play here.

Dawson Mercer and Yegor Sharangovich asbolutely need to be on the power play over Erik Haula and Tomas Tatar. Tatar is historically not a great power play producer, and forcing this does not seem to be working. Erik Haula is also certainly not a more offensively dynamic player than either of the young Devils riding pine for them. The first unit of the power play is scoring plenty. Dougie Hamilton, Jesper Bratt, and Jack Hughes already have 10 power play points.

But Dawson Mercer is fifth on the team with three power play assists - the drop-off from the first to second unit is pretty bad - and yet Tomas Tatar is still getting that playing time over him. I get that Mercer has become a solid penalty killer and Ruff might be distributing the ice time in such a manner, but Tatar gets all of his work done at even strength. Sharangovich, on the other hand, seems to never see the ice at all on the power play. I don’t know if it’s just because he’s not a one-timer threat, but letting him take wrists shots from the circles seems just fine to me. This team needs to see more shots from its third highest-percentage shooter. And given Andrew Brunette saw Sharangovich walk all over his team last year, he should have had the prior knowledge to know Yegor needs to be on a power play unit.

The Severson Issue

As you may have noticed from Stein’s lineup book above, Damon Severson was practicing as the extra defenseman yesterday. Indeed, Ryan Novozinsky caught up with Damon Severson and Lindy Ruff regarding the tie-killing turnover in the mid-third period when the Flyers were at The Rock on Thursday. While Severson said that it was his fault and took a more self-critical tone regarding the play than during his post-game, Ruff took a lighter tone about it when asked if Severson was going to be benched. From Novozinsky’s report yesterday:

“I haven’t made any decisions on lineup,” Ruff said. “Just the fact that he practiced there doesn’t mean he won’t be playing tomorrow. Usually we make that decisions in the morning. We all realize – and he realizes – that it was a tough play to make at that time in the game. It cost us a hockey game.

“But at the same time, we had other opportunities to get back in the game.”

I agree with Ruff here, as I thought the worse issue was the lack of scoring during that game. I am not too concerned with whether he gets benched or not, though. If Ruff wants to send a message, let him - for a game. In no world should Smith-Bahl be the regular third pairing with Severson in the press box: Smith has made a plethora of mistakes throughout the season that would have have had fans calling for Severson’s head. That said, given how well Smith played last game, I would be surprised to see him scratched. Kevin Bahl deserves to be in the lineup, too, but it is generally easier to pull that off when rolling seven defensemen - and the four forward lines played well together against Philly, finishing aside. We’ll see how this shakes out later today.

Your Thoughts

What do you think of tonight’s game? Will you be attending or watching from home? How do you think the Devils will respond to Thursday’s loss? Will Ruff give Severson a chance at redemption? Will Yegor be banned from the power play forever? Leave your thoughts in the comments below.