Fresh off an overtime loss to the New York Rangers during which backup netminder Scott Clemmensen stopped 39 of 41 shots, the Florida Panthers will face off against the 21-16-2 New Jersey Devils tonight at the Prudential Center in Newark, NJ.
In a game that saw the return of center Marcel Goc and right wing Mikael Samuelsson, the Panthers only sent 21 shots in the direction of Martin Biron. Getting more shots on net, and doing so sooner will be a key for the Cats tonight who could snap a five-game road losing skid with a win.
Tonight will be the third meeting between the two teams this season as the series is currently split. On Nov. 21, the “Comeback Cats” responded with four unanswered goals after trailing 3-0 in the first period. This certainly didn’t go unnoticed by the home crowd who witnessed former head coach Pete DeBoer’s return to South Florida after being fired by the franchise this past offseason.
On Dec. 13, they returned to the Bank Atlantic Center to face the Devils after playing seven of their previous eight games on the road, but their fate was one point in a 3-2 shootout loss.
It has not been indicated who will be starting in goal for Florida, but there is a good chance Clemmensen will get the nod despite the back-to-back scenario. Against his former team, he is 3-0-0 with a 2.36 GAA. If that’s the case, Jacob Markstrom who was recently called up as a reaction to the Jose Theodore injury, will be waiting in the wing.
Though likely, it has also not been determined whether or not Martin Brodeur will start for the Devils. The tenured goaltender is 29-9-1 all time against Florida, but is still feeling the sting of a 6-1 loss two nights ago to the surging Bruins. Though Boston is steamrolling nearly everyone they face (and last night further increased their goal differential to +69 in a 9-0 annihilation of Calgary), Brodeur made no excuses. He stopped 21 shots, but the 6 goals that blew past him totaled a season-high for New Jersey.
The Devils will be playing without center Travis Zajac (Achilles soreness) and Anton Volchenkov (lower body injury), neither of whom participated in the morning skate. Krys Barch returns to the lineup for Florida following a one game suspension, but the Cats will still be without Sean Bergenheim and Jack Skille.
One thing that the Panthers could take away from last night’s loss is that there is absolutely no excuse for a bench minor (let alone two of them within 7 minutes of each other). The first, which was called 3:47 into the third period, enabled Rangers’ captain Ryan Callahan to get the go-ahead goal to put his team up 2-1. It was great to see Mike Santorelli come out of the box and answer back with the equalizer just 36 seconds later, but these are the simple things that the Panthers desperately need to keep in check.
Perhaps the biggest red flag in the previous five road losses is that the Panthers were collectively outscored 23-7. Last night was a good example of how the Panthers have been struggling to get on side and create opportunities in the offensive zone. Of course, much of the pressure is on head coach Kevin Dineen who has also recognized this problem with his team that is only averaging 2.58 goals per game. It will be interesting to see what, if any, changes he makes tonight to get more pucks on net and hopefully generate some offense.
With the point last night, the Panthers increased their division lead to four points over the Capitals who have clicked as of late and won four straight games. The Jets have lost two in a row, but still sit only five points behind the Cats. You hear it night in and night out, but the Panthers need to get two points tonight. They return home to square off against Western Conference-leading Vancouver and Pittsburgh next week, undoubtedly two games that are going to present their challenges. The Cats have lost seven of their last 11, and if they want to hang with the top dogs of the East, that’s not going to cut it.
For the Devils’ perspective, check out what our friends at Pucks and Pitchforks have to say by clicking here.
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