Gameday Preview: Devils vs. Panthers. Bring On The Rats!


FLORIDA PANTHERS: 16-9-5 (37 PTS.) vs. NEW JERSEY DEVILS: 15-13-1 (31 PTS.)

GAME TIME: 7:30 P.M.



After seven of their past eight games on the road the Florida Panthers finally come home for a four game home stand and the friendly confines of The Bank Atlantic Center.  The Panthers will be looking to avoid a three game losing streak and are fresh off a disastrous performance in New York where the Rangers skated circles around them for a 6-1 pounding.  Needless to say, the last game of a road trip can sometimes turn out that way, but my advice is no more outdoor practices at Central Park.  Rookie Erik Gudbranson (Big G) scored his first NHL goal in the loss, but is more concerned about the team’s overall play rather than his milestone:

"“It was just one of those games,” said rookie defenseman Erik Gudbranson, who scored his first career goal versus New York. “Glad I was able to score but really, all that matters is how we played overall, and how we respond to it.“What happened, happened, it’s on us now to make something good out of it. This is about us, as a team, and how we react to it.”"

It’s possible that Gudbranson may be held out of tonight’s game as he took a couple of solid hits Sunday night early in the third period and did not return.

The Panthers currently hold a six point lead over the Washington Capitals and remain in third place in the competitive Eastern Conference.  A win tonight combined with a Caps loss who are hosting the Philadelphia Flyers will create some additional space between the clubs. This four game home stand is about as important as it gets for this time of the season for the Panthers who are 4-0-1 at “The Bank” after previously losing four in a row.

Offensively the Cats have been challenged lately getting only four goals in their previous three games, and one of those goals was an empty netter.  While the FlashMob Line has been piling up the assists, they’ve had some difficulty finding the net.  Kris Versteeg has 18 points in his last fifteen games and Tomas Fleischmann has six in his last five, however secondary scoring must be more consistent, as the goals drop off the table in dramatic fashion when looking at the stat sheet.  After the FlashMob Line totals, and Jason Garrison’s nine goal, the next closest goal scorer is Shawn Matthias with five.  Players like Mike Santorelli who scored 20 last season and who was a healthy scratch on Sunday are going to have to step up and make some noise for this team to continue to be successful.

You’ll recall the last time that these two teams met, the Devils jumped out to a three to nothing lead against Jose Theodore and what appeared to be a disinterested Panthers team.  But as we all know a three goal lead for a Pete DeBoer coached team is never safe and the Panthers made an epic comeback to win 4-3.  In regulation as Jose Theodore held down the fort the rest of the way after a horrific start by the entire team.  Theo was pulled after the second period in the Rangers game on Monday surrendering five goals in what was a very uncharacteristic performance by the veteran netminder.  Theodore will be in goal tonight, as I’m sure he’ll want to rebound from Sunday evenings performance.

The New Jersey Devils have won three out of four after a four game losing streak, and are coming to town following a 5-4 victory over the Tampa Bay Lightning last night. You’ll find it interesting to note that the Devils almost blew a three goal lead in the third period of this game, but held on for the win.  Or maybe you won’t find it interesting.  Either way, it’s apparent that no lead is safe with them, regardless of who’s in net.

Marty Brodeur had the night off and is expected to start tonight’s game.  Brodeur has appeared in 16 games this season and could possibly be showing signs of aging as his record is 6-8-0 with a 3.18 GAA and a .884 save percentage.   He’s been sharing time with Johan Hedberg who’s record is 9-5-1 and while Marty is expected to start, you all are familiar with DeBoer and his treatment of goaltenders, so don’t be surprised if Hedberg gets the call should Brodeur falter.

The Devils are getting some solid play by a guy named Adam Henrique who has seven goals and 16 assists for 23 points placing him second on the team in total scoring one point behind Patrik Elias.  The Devils offence could use a boost from Ilya Kovalchuk who has nine goals in 24 games, and is bloated -11.  The Devils offensively are currently ranked 21st in the NHL with 76 goals scored and have given up 84 which ranks them 19th.

Missing from the lineup for New Jersey is forward Travis Zajac who’s out with an injury to his achilles, and defencemen Anton Volchenkov and Andy Greene who are out with hand and ankle injuries respectively.  Kurtis Foster was picked up from Anaheim on Monday to help out on the blue line.

Remember be loud, be proud and buy your plastic rats for the game!

Nerdy Numbers:

* Mike Santorelli of Florida needs one more point for 50 in his career.

* Despite their recent loses to Buffalo and the Rangers the Cats are 7-3-2 in their last 12 games.

* Jason Garrison leads all NHL defencemen with nine goals.

* The Panthers have lost 102 man games to injury so far this season.

* Ilya Kovalchuk has eight points in his last eight games.

* The Devils have allowed one power play goal in the last 36 attempts against them.

* The Devils lead the series 43-22-9.

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