The Devils made room for him when they returned Joe Blandisi to Albany and placed Brian O’Neill on waivers. With Henrique fully healthy again and Zajac expected to be returning soon as well, forward Tuomo Ruutu is set to play his first game tonight since October 16th. Looking to win back-to-back contests for the first time in over a month, the Devils are coming off a shutout victory versus the Sabres and hope to remain undefeated against Florida tonight. The Panthers are just two points behind the Devils and could leapfrog into the second wildcard spot (currently occupied by New Jersey) with a regulation win tonight.
Since their five-game winning streak was snapped, the Panthers have gone 2-3-0. After missing Florida’s last game that resulted in a 5-1 victory over the Islanders, the ageless wonder Jaromir Jagr is back after previously being too ill to play earlier this week. Hopes are high that Jagr can have a similar game tonight that he had in Florida’s previous matchup against the Devils, where he registered two assists. Having said that, I’m sure Coach Gallant would like to see those points come in the form of goals. Jagr’s scored only once in his last ten contests, but still shares the team lead (along with Jussi Jokinen) with 21 points. Jokinen is in the midst of a lengthy goal drought as well. Despite scoring only once in his last 11 games however, Jokinen’s posted six assists over that span.
Florida’s gotten a collective output of goal-scoring from different parts of their lineup in while their top scorers continue to battle their lengthy goal droughts. On the Panthers offensive forefront as of late have been players like defenseman Aaron Exblad, who’s had three goals and five points in his last five games, and right wing Reilly Smith with three goals in his last four contests. Florida certainly misses having Nick Bjugstad in their lineup, who hasn’t played since November 29th.
Who to watch
Lee Stempniak…Tied for second on the team with 24 points, he’s been on an upswing over the past few weeks. He has four goals and eight points in his last ten games. Since he scored the opening goal in New Jersey’s previous matchup against Florida, Stempniak has three goals and four points in his last five games. Let’s see if he can prolong that streak tonight.
Jaromir Jagr…He’s back in the Panthers lineup tonight after missing their last game due to illness. A goal tonight would not only end his lengthy goal drought, but will be the 732nd of his career. The significance…? It will tie Jagr with Marcel Dionne for fourth palce on the all-time list. I always loved him as a Devil and part of me really hopes he gets it tonight as long as it doesn’t sabotage a Devils a lead.
What to watch
The players that are due…As previously mentioned, Jokinen and Jagr are just two of quite a few players on both teams that have scored sparingly or not at all over their last 9-11 games. In addition, Alexander Barkov and Vincent Trocheck, each have two or fewer goals over this same stretch of games. At first, one would say this is just a reflection of the team’s inept offense, but you can’t rule out the possibility that these players are soon due for those goal-less streaks to end. Something the Devils defense should keep an eye on.
Where to watch
When to watch