clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

Game Preview #3: New Jersey Devils vs. Florida Panthers

The Devils struggled to find their footing through their first two games of the season. Can they overcome an 0-2 Florida Panthers squad that went to the Stanley Cup Finals, or will the Eastern Conference champs secure their first win this season?

NHL: Florida Panthers at New Jersey Devils Ed Mulholland-USA TODAY Sports

The Matchup: Florida Panthers at New Jersey Devils

The Time: 7:00 PM EDT

The Broadcast: BSFL, MSGSN

Key Takeaways

  • After falling to a young Arizona Coyotes squad, the Devils are 1-0-1 on the season with three points. While they’ve out-talented Detroit and Arizona at times, they handed away two points against the Coyotes and nearly did the same with Detroit.
  • The Devils last played Florida on March 18, 2023, where they surrendered a two-goal lead and lost 4-2 against the eventual Eastern Conference champions.
  • To secure their second win of the season, the Devils need to start the game on-time tonight and play a full 60 minutes. While young, this team is experienced enough to know by know that anything less than their best effort through three periods will not be enough to win reliably.

Line Changes, Not Lineup Changes

The Devils practiced yesterday afternoon after a mildly disappointing loss to the fledgling Arizona Coyotes. There were a few changes in line makeups, but those hoping for full-scale lineup changes will likely find themselves disappointed tonight.

Notably, Ondrej Palat moves up beside Timo Meier and Nico Hischier on the 1A line while Mercer correspondingly drops to the third line beside Erik Haula and Alexander Holtz. The Meier - Hischier - Mercer line did not click through two games, getting consistently out-possessed and out-chanced at five-on-five. I understand why Lindy Ruff might not want to break up the second line (and, say, add Jesper Bratt to the first line). Hughes, Toffoli, and Bratt are firing on all cylinders, and sometimes you don’t want to weaken a strength to strengthen a weakness.

Still, I wonder if Palat is the right move. To me, he occupies a similar role as Dawson Mercer: a dogged forechecker who wins battles on the boards and distributes the puck from those battles. My early thoughts are that Meier and Hischier need a playmaker—but maybe a different look and different chemistry alongside Palat will make the line more effective.

Tomas Nosek is day-to-day with a lower-body injury, so Nate Bastian will join the fourth line for his first game of the season. Nosek has done just fine in his limited minutes, but Bastian brings some additional physicality and pre-established chemistry with McLeod that could light a fire throughout the lineup tonight.

It also looks like Colin Miller will not draw into the game tonight. Instead, Luke Hughes will play the right side again as Brendan Smith serves as the sixth defenseman. It’s early in the season yet. I’m hopeful that this combination can deliver more value than they have in the first two games.

What’s up with the Florida Panthers?

My mantra through the first ten games is usually “Well, it’s still early in the season.” The Florida Panthers are 0-2. The New Jersey Devils are 1-0-1. Last season, the Devils were calling for Ruff’s firing after the first few games, and the Panthers were nine points out of the playoffs after the Christmas break.

We all know how both those stories ended.

Still, the Panthers have looked a step behind through their first two games, losing 0-2 and 4-6 to Minnesota and Winnipeg, respectively. They ran through the Eastern Conference last playoffs and notably dispatched a Carolina Hurricanes team that gave the Devils all sorts of problems in the second round. But now the Panthers are in one of the least-enviable positions in the NHL: a team experiencing a Stanley Cup hangover without the Stanley Cup to show for it.

They experienced a few key subtractions during the offseason. Radko Gudas, Eric Staal, Patric Hornqvist, and Anthony Duclair are all gone. Matthew Tkachuk suffered a horrible cracked sternum injury that left him unable to play the final game of the Stanley Cup and—when he did play—made him incapable of getting out of bed and tying his own skates.

The Devils can take advantage of the Panthers’ shaky start by coming out of the gates and hammering them early, leaving them no time to get their footing (and leaving Tkachuk unable to get under their skin).

This team should still comfortably be a playoff team. But it also gets late real early.

Final Thoughts

The Devils aren’t a surprise anymore. They’re not a dark horse team nobody fully believes in. They’re contenders, and opponents who once underestimated them (and suffered the consequences) last season are now taking the Devils very seriously—as they should. The Devils need to take their opponents equally seriously. They’ll face more starting goaltenders and teams prepared to fight hard for sixty minutes.

We saw how much that win meant for the Coyotes. Beating the Devils is no longer considered an expected two points; it’s a point of pride. We all know they can win against the best, but they can’t be the come-from-behind darlings they were last year. They have to take it to their opponents from the get-go. They have to score first tonight.

Good habits start now.

Do you think Palat on the first line will get Meier and Hischier scoring? Will Meier and/or Holtz find the back of the net for the first time this season tonight? Let us know in the comments below!