The New Jersey Devils will begin a two game stop in the Sunshine State tonight against the Florida Panthers and concludes tomorrow night against the Tampa Bay Lightning. New Jersey is riding high from their win in Philadelphia on Tuesday night, and would be in great position if they could go 3-0 on this road trip.
The Panthers have been playing poorly of late, having lost 3 games in a row, and are 2-8 in their last 10 games. Florida also is not a difficult place to win a game as a visiting team, the Panthers have just 12 home victories this season.
I received a large number of e-mails with feedback on my last post on the Devils game with the Flyers with some very nice complements about how I analyzed the strategy for New Jersey going into that game. I really appreciate the feedback and support, and I wanted to mention that here in this forum.
The Devils won the game in Philadelphia by executing every point I made in the article prior to that game: they used the cycle to wear down the Flyers, they back checked the Flyers and prevented them from getting quality scoring chances, and the Devils were aggressive in shooting the puck.
Game Plan vs. Panthers
The New Jersey game plan against the Panthers is pretty simple: they have to keep Scottie Upshall (12 goals, 20 assists) in check and contain Brad Boyes (17 goals, 13 assists) and they will essentially stall the entire Florida offense by doing so.
The Devils also have to watch Brian Campbell (23 assists) as the Panthers like to run some offense through him especially in transition from the neutral zone with entry passes into their attacking end of the ice.
Tuomo Ruutu and Patrik Elias for the Devils will have the assignments on their respective lines to back check and defend Upshall and Boyes. The Devils defenseman match up well against all of the top players for Florida and I know that Marek Zidlicky or Andy Greene will match up well against Campbell and his skill set.
The New Jersey offensive game plan should include the use of the stretch pass to break down the Panthers defensive structure, Florida likes to set up with numbers in their defensive end and clog up the passing lanes for their opponent. The use of the stretch pass would open up seams for the Devils to attack from the wings and try to create scoring opportunities.
The Devils need to focus on the fact that this game against Florida will be different than the prior games because the Panthers will have newly acquired Roberto Luongo in goal. New Jersey needs to crash the net to create opportunities against Luongo, and they have been very aggressive in that regard in recent games.
Adam Henrique is on a hot streak which could continue tonight because his skill set is difficult for the Panthers defensively to deal with, and I feel that Elias and Jaromir Jagr could also have very good success against the Panthers as well.
Cory Schneider gets the start in goal and has a chance to shake off a couple of poor performances since the Olympic break. Schneider has a chance to rebound his goaltending against a poor offensive team in the Panthers, so that could be a big confidence boost for him if the Devils can earn a victory tonight.
The Devils match up with the Lightning tomorrow and that is going to be a difficult game for New Jersey. Tampa Bay is tied for 3rd place in the Atlantic Division, and they have 18 wins at home this season.
The Lightning are a completely different opponent than the Panthers, and I was on social media earlier today, the Devils fans seem concerned with getting this game as the second half of back-to-back games.
The fatigue factor is a bit of a concern, but the Devils will have Martin Brodeur in goal tomorrow night, and the team seems highly focused since the return from the Olympic break.
However, the Lightning have Steven Stamkos back from injury and coming off a huge offensive night against the Panthers recently. The Lightning also have another familiar face who is starting to fit in their system nicely, Ryan Callahan, who they obtained via a trade with the New York Rangers.
The Devils game plan for the game in Tampa needs to include the more physical style of play where they keep the puck on the boards and make the Lightning fight for puck possession in that way. If the Devils can do that and force the Lightning to commit penalties, that will put them in better position to score goals against Tampa (24th in the NHL in penalty kill) than at even strength.
Enjoy the games in the Sunshine State, Devils Army, and keep checking Pucks & Pitchforks for the latest news about the New Jersey Devils.
(stats courtesy of NHL.com and SI.com)