The New Jersey Devils will have home-ice advantage tonight as they battle the Florida Panthers. Their opponent is coming to Prudential Center as the top team in the league with 21 points. It will be a true test for the Devils as the Panthers as the best team they have played since the Calgary Flames came to New Jersey.
The last time these two teams met was on Feb. 11, 2020. The Devils lost by a score of 5-3, and the Devils’ goal scorers were Jack Hughes, Kevin Rooney and Kyle Palmieri. What I found interesting is that there are only six Devils players from that game who are still with the team. Let’s break down some storylines for the Panthers and Devils.
3 Storylines: Florida Panthers (10-1-1)
The Panthers Are Coming in Hot
The Panthers have been a surprise so far this season. Aleksander Barkov leads his team with 13 points including two game-winning goals. Sergei Bobrovsky is currently a top goaltender in the league with a record of 6-0-0. The 33-year-old goaltender did not dress for the Panthers’ last two games and is questionable for tonight’s matchup.
The Panthers Second Game of a Back-to-Back
The Panthers suffered their first regulation loss of the season last night against the New York Rangers. Florida entered the third period down by four goals but quickly got on the board in the first minute of the third period. They continued to push and scored two goals in the last 1:30 of the game.
“I really love that we didn’t give up,” said Panthers’ head coach Andrew Brunette. “We competed right to the end. I thought we really tried all game. We made some mental mistake that were costly, and that’s going to happen. You just hope they don’t happen in these short periods of times, and the end of period where they are kind of play with fire when you give up goals late. I like our compete and thought we tried to push there late.”
The Panthers’ Recent Special Teams Issues
During last night’s loss, the Panthers allowed both a power-play goal and a short-handed goal in the first 20 minutes of play. The Devils can expect this to be an area the team will focus on and look to clean up. The Panthers’ power-play percentage is ranked 11th in the league at 25 percent, while their penalty kill percentage is 13th in the league with 84.4 percentage. Both are exponentially better than the Devils, who have had issues with both their special teams.
3 Storylines: New Jersey Devils (5-3-2)
Can the Devils Remain Out of the Penalty Box?
Discipline has been an issue for this young Devils team. In fact, the only players who have not taken a penalty in the past 10 games are Jack Hughes, Jimmy Vesey and Alexander Holtz. Head coach Lindy Ruff has made it clear he will be holding his players accountable, and undisciplined play will be unacceptable.
If the Devils want to give themselves a chance to win tonight’s game, they will need to play a disciplined game. During their California road trip, New Jersey gave up 16 power-play opportunities, allowing six goals. The Devils have allowed a power-play goal in each of their last four games. Eyes will be on Damon Severson, Dawson Mercer and Tomas Tatar as they have taken a handful of minor penalties this season.
Dougie Hamilton Returns?
Devils fans took a sigh of relief yesterday when Dougie Hamilton took part in the afternoon practice. He missed the last two games with an injury and is listed as day-to-day. The 6-foot-6 defenseman was spotted on the ice today at the Devils’ optional morning skate, but it has not been confirmed if he will make it into the lineup.
Tyce Thompson and Jesper Boqvist Join the Team
It was announced earlier today that the Devils recalled both Tyce Thompson and Jesper Boqvist. Thompson played seven games with the Devils last season and earned one assist. This season he has four goals in the last three games for the Utica Comets of the American Hockey League (AHL). Boqvist has more NHL experience and played 28 games last season finishing with seven points. He did not make the Devils’ opening night roster, and it could be said that it was Dawson Mercer who took his spot. In his last three games with the Comets, he has two goals and four assists.
It appears Yegor Sharangovich will be a healthy scratch tonight. The 23-year-old has had a difficult start only earning three assists, and not earning a point in the last five games. Last season he finished with 30 points and received 17 votes for the Calder Trophy.
“I really think that he is inside his own head right now,” said Coach Ruff about Sharangovich. “I’ve had lots of meeting with him. We’ve looked at a lot of things, we have even looked at the first two Boston games from last year, and looked at what made him effective. We are going through everything to try and get him back.”
Players to Watch
New Jersey Devils: Jesper Bratt
It may have taken a handful of games for Jesper Bratt to get going, but it seems the 23-year-old has finally found his stride. In his last five games, he has five points including a game-winning goal. During yesterday’s practice, he was back on a line with Pavel Zacha and Nico Hischier.
Florida Panthers: Jonathan Huberdeau
If the Devils find themselves in the penalty box, then all eyes will be on Jonathan Huberdeau. He leads the Panthers with five points on the man advantage. Florida’s first power-play unit consists of Huberdeau, Patric Hornqvist,
Aleksander Barkov, Sam Reinhart and Aaron Ekblad. If New Jersey gives them the opportunity, expect Huberdeau to have the puck on his stick ready to shoot or pass to one of his skilled teammates.
Kristy has been contributing to The Hockey Writers since March of 2021. She is thrilled to be putting her journalism degree to use and is a credentialed correspondent covering the New Jersey Devils. Kristy is also a member of the Professional Hockey Writers Association. You can follow her journey on Twitter @InStilettos_NHL and Instagram SkatingInStilettos.