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Game Preview #40: New Jersey Devils at Florida Panthers

Hopefully Tkachuk won't go after the captain tonight.

NHL: OCT 16 Panthers at Devils
Don't do anything drastic in the faceoff dot tonight.

The Matchup: The New Jersey Devils (21-15-3) at the Florida Panthers (27-12-2)

The Time: 6:00 PM EST

The Broadcast: TV - MSGSN

The Fruits of Good Goaltending

While Sergei Bobrovsky fell off the radar of many during his past five years with the Florida Panthers, he is arguably having his best season yet in Sunrise. Having played 31 games, he is 21-9-1 with a .913 save percentage and 2.42 goals against average. His backup, Anthony Stolarz, has a 6-3-1 record with a .923 save percentage and 1.95 goals against average. At ages 35 and 30, respectively, the Panthers have a bit of an older goaltending tandem, but it has served them very well this season. They have helped the Panthers achieve the third stingiest goals against count with a defensive group of Oliver Ekman-Larsson, Gustav Forsling, Niko Mikkola, Dmitry Kulikov; and now Aaron Ekblad and Brandon Montour, who have returned from injury for 24 and 25 games, respectively.

Two nights ago, Sergei Bobrovsky led the Panthers to a 3-2 win over the Kings with a 31-save performance. Anthony Stolarz had a 29-save victory in a 5-1 game against the Blues on Tuesday. We’ll see who ends up starting against the Devils tonight.

With Vitek Vanecek having played on Thursday against the Lightning, Nico Daws should be in net for the Devils today. This will be his fourth appearance of the season: he is 2-1-0 with an .894 save percentage and a 3.37 goals against average. A decent or better game from Daws might have people stop pretending his performance has been “the same” as Schmid or Vanecek.

Top Heavy Attack

While it is true that the Devils have to load up their top six in the absence of Jack Hughes, Timo Meier, and Ondrej Palat, they should still be able to matchup against the Florida Panthers, who only have five forwards with 20 or more points — Evan Rodrigues (26), Matthew Tkachuk (40), Carter Verhaeghe (41), Aleksander Barkov (45), and Sam Reinhart (53). They are also joined by Sam Bennett, who has 15 points in 29 games, and Anton Lundell, who is underperforming with only 13 points in 37 games. Beyond them, the Panthers lineup is largely filled with plugs and goons, like Nick Cousins, who is currently out with concussion symptoms.

Even with Jack Hughes out, the Devils still have five forwards in their lineup with 20 or more points — Erik Haula (21 in 34), Nico Hischier (21 in 28), Dawson Mercer (21), Tyler Toffoli (29), and Jesper Bratt (45). Alex Holtz and Michael McLeod aren’t far behind. Unfortunately, the Devils obviously have had to resort to an inordinate number of plugs in the lineup: but the injury fill-in bottom six performed admirably against Tampa Bay. If Shane Bowers and Max Willman can bring their forechecking tonight, and if Chris Tierney can have another decent game, the Devils will be in good shape to match the relatively limited Florida attack.

Florida is not a team that’s going to win by scoring five goals a night: they win by having their top six score and having their bottom six and the defense shut other teams down. They stifle opponents and have a team that is not afraid to be physical. If the Devils’ bottom six — maybe Alex Holtz, still stuck on that third line — can get a goal early, it would do a lot to shake Florida’s balance. In fact, the Panthers have not yet lost a game in regulation when taking a lead into the second intermission, as they are 19-0-1 in such games. Be sharp tonight, Devils. Kevin Bahl and Colin Miller will have to face much of their offensive attack. But if Bahl is moving like he was moving on Thursday, and if Miller is his usual self, I think the Devils have a good chance this evening.

Your Thoughts

What do you think of tonight’s game? Do you think Nico Daws has what it takes to keep it close? Can the Devils score enough on Florida to win? Leave your thoughts in the comments below.