NEW JERSEY DEVILS: 10-7-1 (21 PTS.) vs. FLORIDA PANTHERS: 10-6-3 (23 PTS.)
GAME TIME: 7:30 P.M. EASTERN
OPPOSITION SITE: PUCKS AND PITCHFORKS
Sunday was a big news day for NHL fans as it was announced that Sidney Crosby would be making his season debut Monday night against the New York Islanders on home ice in Pittsburgh. In my world, that news was trounced by the announcement of Bruce Springsteen’s upcoming tour in 2012 to go along with his 18th studio album. That news coupled with the return of Peter DeBoer, as he brings his New Jersey Devils to the Bank Atlantic Center tonight, put the Crosby announcement on the back burner for me. And Bruce is from New Jersey so there you go.
DeBoer who coached in Florida for three seasons till his dismissal after last year will be facing the Florida Panthers for the first time, as the Devils are in search of their third consecutive victory on this road trip. DeBoer seems to be a little pumped up for this one based on the following comments:
“For a lot of reasons, I’d like to win that one,” said DeBoer about Monday’s matchup. “It will be interesting. I haven’t been back to a place I’ve been fired before, so it will be a first-time experience for me. Listen, I had three great years there.”
The Devils currently sit in the ninth spot in the Eastern Conference two points behind the Panthers in what is turning out to be a very tight race. New Jersey is coming off a penalty filled win over the Tampa Bay Lightning on Saturday night, winning by a score of 4-2, during which the teams were assessed 14 penalties. The Devils however took advantage of the extra skater and potted two power play goals in that game, which turned out to be the deciding factor. The fourth goal of the game for New Jersey was scored by former Florida Panther Ryan Carter, who has two points in his last two games.
The Devils are led offensively by veteran Patrik Elias who has eight goals and 18 points. The team also features Zach Parise who missed all but 13 games last season with a knee injury. Parise is off to a solid start with six goals and five assists so far in what is the final year of his contract. He will be an unrestricted free agent after this season. I repeat he will be an unrestricted free agent at the end of the season!. Also, let’s not forget about Ilya Kovalchuk who has been limited to three goals at this point. Once a very dangerous and prolific scorer, Kovalchuk’s scoring, or lack of makes you wonder if the system employed by New Jersey has hurt his game, or has he lost his touch. I never felt that this was a good fit for either team, but with his fat contract it appears that the two will have to work this out, and remain stuck with each other.
Also somewhat rejuvenated is veteran forward Petr Sykora who is on his second tour of duty with the Devils. Sykora who didn’t play in the NHL last season signed a very affordable contract ($650,000) this summer, and has fit in rather nicely in DeBoer’s system. Blessed with one of the best shots in the game, Sykora is always a scoring threat, and is a very smart player with keen hockey sense. David Clarkson is second on the team with seven goals has a history with DeBoer as he played for Pete when DeBoer coached the Kitchener Rangers in the OHL. Rookie defenceman Adam Larsson, the fourth overall pick for New Jersey this summer has played in all 18 games and has one goal and three assists. Larsson is getting a lot of ice time for the Devils, which is potentially a sign that DeBoer has lightened up some on his younger players.
Let us not forget about Marty Brodeur, who is probably the games best goaltender. Brodeur who is 39 years old has played his entire career with the Devils (20 years), and still to this day can steal games. Marty has won both road games so far on this trip for New Jersey has benefited from a superb defensive system employed by the Devils. Limiting the shots against, has more than likely prolonged his career as he has accumulated the wins. Marty will be starting tonight and was 2-0-1 in three starts against the Panthers last season. This is the final game of the Devils five game road trip, and even though DeBoer would really like to win this one, we could be catching New Jersey at a time where all they are thinking about is getting home.
Florida meanwhile is coming off a win on Saturday night against the Pittsbugh Penguins which was a real nail biter up to the very end. The final five minutes were about as nerve wracking as a regular season game could get, but it was all about being in the right place at the right time, and about getting “dirty”. Stephen Weiss scored the game winner with less than four minutes remaining in a goal mouth scrum to give the Panthers a 3-2 lead. On the opposite end of the ice Jose Theodore stood on his head in the final minutes on the way to making 39 saves to give the Panthers the victory. Theodore will start again tonight with Jacob Markstrom as the backup, while Scott Clemmensen remains out with “soreness”.
This will be the first time that some current Panthers will face their old bench boss, and you can bet that there are a few players that are looking forward to showing DeBoer what they can do with the reigns off. Joe Yerdon from Pro Hockey Talk speaks of this very situation. That said, the more exciting and up tempo game that Florida is playing has the top line of Stephen Weiss, Kris Versteeg and Tomas Fleischmann playing like a well oiled machine. No more watching paint dry, and no more sitting on leads, as Kevin Dineen has the Panthers playing aggressively to the very end of the game.
The victory over Pittsburgh Saturday night now finds the Panthers in first place in the Southeast Division, as well as third in the conference as they push ahead of the troubled Washington Capitals. The top line as mentioned is providing the excitement and scoring, but at times this worries me. Secondary scoring is going to be the key to any success that we can expect to have in this long season, as the bottom nine forwards must be more consistent in finding the back of the net. They have been getting scoring chances and have been working hard, but players like Jack Skille and Sean Bergenheim need to lite the lamp. The energy and scoring opportunities created by Evgenii Dadonov have helped as he has two goals in four games, however, we need more from just the top line and our defence.
The Penguins game was another notch in Florida’s measuring stick of progress, as far as being able to compete with elite teams. Resiliency from the skaters and composure from our goaltender (Theodore) were the keys to that victory. Yes, Pittsburgh pushed extremely hard at the very end, but there was no panic, and our goaltender saved the night. The game this evening will be no different as I expect the Devils to play hard for 60 minutes, with DeBoer trying to slow down the top line. The difference however between this year’s team and last years is that we have the ability to push back.
This is a huge game tonight, and as Bill Whitehead says, necessary….For Pete’s sake.
* New Jersey leads the series 43-23-7.
* The top line of Weiss, Flash and Versteeg has now accounted for 43.6% of the teams offence with 24 of the teams 55 goals.
* Florida’s defence leads the league in points by blueliners with 54.
* Marty Brodeur has 37 career assists.
* Dainius Zubrus appeard in his 1000th NHL game last Wednesday.
* In 58 career games Brodeur is 36-14-8 against the Florida Panthers.
* In 53 games against Florida Ilya Kovalchuk has 32-g and 31-a for 63 points.
* Peter DeBoer coached the Florida Panthers for three seasons. His record was 103-107-36.
* Ryan Carter played 19 games in a Panthers sweater. 2-g, 1-a.
* Scott Clemmensen played parts of five seasons in New Jersey. His most successful was in 2008-2009 when he won 25 games as Brodeur missed most of the season with an injury.
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