The Devils were in the news today for their possible jersey redesign coming next season. We will talk about that in due time here. In the meantime, New Jersey was playing the Florida Panthers at Prudential Center in the final game of a three game home stand.
It was the official start of the second half of the season for the Devils and they kicked off the second half the same way they kicked off the first half, against the Panthers. This was the only trip to Newark for the Cats this season and the end of the three game season series. Florida won the first two meetings in overtime. They would not need the extra session tonight, getting a 3-0 victory in regulation. This is the first time in Florida Panther history that they have swept a season series from the Devils.
The Panthers were doing their “dad’s trip” tonight just as the Devils had in Washington. The funny thing about Florida doing that is that Jaromir Jagr, at 44 years old, is closer in age to some of the dads than he is their sons. The great Jagr recently moved into second place in all-time NHL scoring, moving ahead of Mark Messier and behind only Wayne Gretzky. He would be making his only appearance at the Prudential Center tonight. To put into perspective just how long Jagr has been playing, consider that he is the only player to have played during the NHL’s 75th anniversary season who is still active in the 100th anniversary season! His rookie year was actually the NHL’s 74th season.
On the injury front for the Devils, John Moore has not made any progress towards returning from his concussion, that according to coach John Hynes. Andy Greene is also still out, as is Jacob Josefson (illness). Vern Fiddler is closer to returning and could be back by the western road swing coming up.
But Florida will not have any sympathy for the Devils on the injury front. They have been dealing with their own injury woes, including Jonathan Huberdeau, who was hurt in the preseason against the Devils at West Point and goaltender Roberto Luongo, who just came back from an injury (among others).
Speaking of Luongo, he would be starting in goal for the Cats. He would nab all 28 Devils shots he faced in picking up the shutout. With this win, he moved into fifth place all-time on the NHL wins list.
Luongo was opposed by his former Vancouver Canucks running mate, Cory Schneider. Cory played well, making 26 stops on 27 Panthers shots faced. The Panthers scored their final two goals into an empty net, so actually had 29 shots on goal. Cory said that it meant a lot to him that coach John Hynes put him right back in against Edmonton after the debacle against Toronto where he was pulled. He was right back in tonight and played a good, solid game in a losing cause.
Roster-wise, Yohann Auvitu was injured in the last game against Edmonton and Andy Greene is still out. Luke Gazdic was the healthy scratch. Beau Bennett drew back in with Gazdic out. For Florida, Dylan McIlrath and Greg McKegg were the scratches.
Kyle Palmieri was nearly injured when he took a slap shot to the leg in the first period, but did return – not missing a shift.
The lone goal of the game not scored on Cory Schneider was set up when Denis Malgin was driving down the boards. He turned at the last minute and Pavel Zacha, who was finishing his check, was not able to let up in time. Malgin went down and Zacha was whistled for a five minute boarding major. Shawn Thornton of the Panthers came to Malgin’s defense and drew a roughing penalty. Those penalties came at 12:17 This meant that Florida would only be on the power play for three minutes, rather than the full five. The Devils almost got out of the penalty without incident until the 16:55 mark of the period when Reilly Smith scored his eighth from Jussi Jokinen and Vincent Trocheck. The Panthers jumped out to the 1-0 lead.
Florida went 1-for-6 with the man advantage while the Devils were 0-for-2. That was the story of the night, as New Jersey kept a relatively steady march to the penalty box that got them into trouble at crucial times of the game. The good news was that they only gave up the one power play goal.
The Cats were also with the extra man for the first two minutes of the second period when Ben Lovejoy went off for high-sticking Jared McCann at the 20 minute mark of the first, giving Florida a power play on fresh ice. The Devils did kill that one off, however.
With the majority of the game being 1-0, the Devils spent the final minutes of the third with Cory pulled trying to tie things up. He was pulled with 1:25 left in the game and Jokinen scored unassisted into the empty net to make it 2-0. That goal came at 18:55 of the third.
The Devils then pulled Cory again with about 40 seconds left, desperately trying to get something going. Unfortunately, Trocheck scored on the empty net, getting an assist from Keith Yandle. That made it 3-0 at the 19:44 mark. And that was that.
The Devils and Panthers are not that far off in record and points. Florida is two games over NHL .500 while the Devils are two games under. The difference for both teams is that the Devils play in a much tougher division where wins are at a premium. Florida, being in a weaker Atlantic Division, could conceivably make the playoffs hovering around .500, while the Devils, in the much tougher Metropolitan Division, cannot.
Next up, the Devils head out west. They first travel to Edmonton to take on the Oilers in their new Rogers Place arena. This will be Taylor Hall’s first trip back to Edmonton, of course, so he should get a warm reception. That game comes up on Thursday at 9 PM.