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Game Preview #68: New Jersey Devils vs. Florida Panthers

The Devils struggle to stop other teams from scoring goals. Nobody in the NHL has scored more goals this season than the Panthers. This could be another long day at the office for the Devils.

NHL: New Jersey Devils at Florida Panthers
Jonathan Huberdeau, seen here celebrating a goal against the Devils in 2019, has been one of the best players in the NHL this season
Robert Mayer-USA TODAY Sports

The Matchup: The New Jersey Devils (24-38-5, 53 points) host the Florida Panthers (46-15-6, 98 points). SB Nation Blog: Litterbox Cats

The Time: 12:30 PM ET

The Broadcast: TV - MSG+, SN1, NHL NETWORK. RADIO - Devils Hockey Network (Access through or the SiriusXM app)

The last Devils game

The Devils were mathematically eliminated from playoff contention after getting embarrassed by the Bruins in a 8-1 loss Thursday night. I had the recap of that game, but honestly, the less said about it, the better. If you are a masochist, you can relive whatever that was at the link above.

The last Panthers game

The Panthers continued arguably their greatest season in franchise history with a 4-0 shutout win over the Chicago Blackhawks on Thursday. Sasha Barkov scored twice to put him over the 30 goal mark on the season, and Sergei Bobrovsky posted a 37 save shutout.

The last Devils-Panthers game(s)

This is the third and final meeting between the two teams this season, as the Devils fell to the Panthers by a score of 4-1 the last time they met back on November 18th. Jenna had the recap of that one and, stop me if you’ve heard this before.....a bad second period and poor goaltending sunk the Devils. Mackenzie Blackwood struggled in this one and eventually got lifted for Jonathan Bernier.

The Devils got plenty of shots on Spencer Knight, who made 45 stops, but only a first period goal by Dougie Hamilton kept the Devils from getting shutout. Blackwood gave up a goal to Carter Verhaeghe in the closing seconds of the first period to tie the game, and then three quick goals in the second period ended Blackwood’s night early.

I would prefer to see a performance closer to what we saw nine days before that when the Devils put up 7 on the Panthers in a stunning home win, but that would involve guys who have been passengers for the better part of 30 games snapping out of their funk and actually contributing so it all doesn’t fall on Jack Hughes, Jesper Bratt, and Nico Hischier to do everything. Let’s just say I have my doubts that any of that will come to fruition.

Tonight’s Lineups?

The Devils lineup last game in Boston was as follows.

Needless to say, none of those lines worked as they all pretty much got curb-stomped at 5v5, blew numerous defensive assignments, and got outworked along the boards. The Devils lone goal came moments after a power play and was the result of a great individual effort by Nico Hischier and Jack Hughes.

Miles Wood did not participate in Friday’s practice and is listed as questionable for today.

There’s a reasonable chance that Wood is replaced in the lineup by Pavel Zacha, who participated in practice and even took reps on the second power play unit. Zacha has missed the last 7 games since suffering an injury March 15th in Vancouver. Lindy Ruff made it sound like in his media session yesterday that Andreas Johnsson and Janne Kuokkanen are close to returning to the lineup as well, so it’ll be interesting to see how Ruff fills out his lineup card if they’re good to go. He’d certainly be justified sitting anyone in the bottom six at this point.

We also got some news on the goaltending front.

As you know by now, the Devils acquired Andrew Hammond at the trade deadline in exchange for Nate Schnarr. Hammond had been dealing with a minor injury the last few weeks but returned to practice earlier this week and looks to be good to go. Seeing as the Devils acquired Hammond for the sole purpose of getting through the rest of this season, I would expect to see him debut either today against Florida or tomorrow against the Islanders. Nico Daws has struggled of late with an .856 save percentage in his last seven outings and Jon Gillies hasn’t been any better, so Hammond’s debut couldn’t come at a better time.

As for the Panthers, according to Jameson Coope, Patric Hornqvist and Noel Acciari will not make their road trip this weekend. Interim coach Andrew Brunette is hopeful that Anton Lundell will return to the lineup today. It’s also expected that Sergei Bobrovsky and Spencer Knight will split the Panthers starts in net this weekend, although no word on who the Devils will face in the front end of a back-to-back for the Panthers.

Florida’s lineup from Thursday is as follows.

Keys To The Game

Let’s get the obvious out of the way first. If the Devils play in their own end is anything like what we saw against Boston, they have zero chance of beating Florida. No team has scored more goals than the Panthers this season, averaging 4.06 goals per game. Only Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl have more points than Jonathan Huberdeau this season (23 G, 71 A). The Panthers have six players with 20+ goals, while the Devils have two. It’s almost comical how good the Panthers offense has been, and they’re more than capable of making the Devils pay for their mistakes.

So how did the Devils beat Florida once already this season? They got some fortuitous bounces (and a little luck that Spencer Knight was on the back end of a back-to-back). Two of the goals went in off of Panthers defensemen and Nico Hischier redirected one in down in front. Were the Devils lucky? Sure. They also created their own luck by getting pucks on the net. Against an explosive team like Florida, you have to get pucks on the net if you want any shot of pulling off the upset.

Lastly, I would keep an eye on one of the newest Panthers. Claude Giroux has 5 assists in 5 games since coming over at the trade deadline.

Final Thoughts

What do you think about today’s matchup? Can the Devils get a win against the Cats? What are the keys to the game for you? What lineup changes would you like to see made? Please feel free to leave a comment below and thank you for reading!