Devils Gameday Preview: Florida Panthers

The New Jersey Devils are in the Sunshine State preparing to take on the Florida Panthers on Thursday. Yesterday, the team placed Tyce Thompson on injured reserve and recalled Fabian Zetterlund from the Utica Comets, so expect Zetterlund to make his NHL debut during this Florida trip.

“The reason you bring someone up is you’re planning on getting him in the lineup,” said Devils head coach Lindy Ruff. “The way it looks now, that should probably happen.”

The teams met nine days ago at Prudential Center, with an impressive 7-3 win for the home team. Thirteen different Devils earned a point in the win, and Mackenzie Blackwood made 35 saves on 38 shots. Since their first meeting, there have been injuries and lineup changes. Here’s a look at some storylines for the Panthers and Devils.

2 Storylines: Florida Panthers (11-2-3)

Aleksander Barkov Out Week-to-Week With Injury

The biggest news out of Florida is that Aleksander Barkov will be out week-to-week with a lower-body injury. During Tuesday night’s game against the New York Islanders, Barkov collided with Scott Mayfield in an apparent knee-on-knee incident.

Barkov leads the Panthers with nine goals and 17 points. He is also one of his team’s best in the faceoff circle and has two game-winning goals in 15 games. The 6-foot-3 has captained the team (10th in history) since 2018, so losing him for the next few weeks might hurt, though they are the best team in the league, with 25 points.

Related: Aleksander Barkov’s Path to Becoming Panthers’ Greatest Goal Scorer

“Obviously, a tough guy to see go down,” Patric Hornqvist said after the game. “He’s our leader and our best player. We need him to go where we want to be. I hope he’s all right.”

The good news is he was spotted walking around after Tuesday’s game, and he doesn’t seem to need surgery. However, the good news for Devils fans is that he will not be in the lineup tonight. Barkov scored the Panthers’ second goal in their last meeting.

A Perfect Home Record

Coming into tonight’s game, the Panthers have a perfect home record, and only two of eight opponents have managed to earn a point at FLA Live Arena (formerly BB&T Center). The Devils’ road record is 2-1-2, and a win tonight will be a tall order. They will have to be the first team to beat the Panthers on their home ice this season, in addition to facing an opponent who will want payback for letting up seven goals in the previous matchup.

2 Storylines: New Jersey Devils (7-4-3)

Blackwood Has Been Cleared and Is Available

Mackenzie Blackwood participated in a full practice yesterday before the team boarded their plane for Florida. He was pulled from Sunday’s game against the New York Rangers by concussion spotters after a collision with Kaapo Kakko.

“I’ve never had that happen to me before,” Blackwood said at yesterday’s practice. “In the moment, they’re just trying to do what’s best for you regardless of if you want to stay or not. They have to do their part to keep players safe. It sucks. It’s unfortunate, but I think it’s good that they want to take care of players.”

Related: 3 Takeaways From the Devils Impressive Win Over the Panthers

Ruff confirmed that both Blackwood and Jonathan Bernier will be available during the Florida trip. At the time of writing, the Devils had not yet announced who their starting goaltender will be against the Panthers.

Devils Continue to Work on Puck Management

In practice, Ruff has focused on puck management. If his team handles the puck well and reduces the number of turnovers, they will likely win the game. That was not the case against the Rangers.

“Sometimes you want to make something out of nothing,” Ruff said after yesterday’s practice. “There were a few shifts (against the Rangers) where we were at the end of the shifts and were changing and making ill-advised decisions with the puck. We watched a lot of that stuff (on video). We had a longer meeting on cleaning up some of the chances we’re giving up.”

The coaching staff wants their players to communicate and be vocal throughout the game. Without Barkov, the Panthers are a very good team and will cash in on every opportunity New Jersey gives them. Expect to hear Ruff’s thoughts on the subject after the game, as this has been an ongoing topic in the Devils’ media room.

Players to Watch

New Jersey Devils: PK Subban

If Ruff is looking for vocal players on the ice, I can’t think of a better one to watch than P.K. Subban. He is constantly talking to his teammates on the ice and pointing to different areas. The 6-foot-0 defenseman has seven points on the season and has a point in three of his last five games.

Florida Panthers:  Sergei Bobrovsky 

At the time of publication, the Panthers had yet to announce their starting goalie, but after Spencer Knight let in seven goals last week, there’s a good chance the Devils will face Bobrovsky on Thursday. He has a 7-0-2 record, a .942 save percentage, and a 1.78 goals-against average. He is one of the best in the league, and it won’t be easy for New Jersey to get the puck past him if he is in net.

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