Today’s NHL Prediction features a rematch from an October contest between the New Jersey Devils and Florida Panthers. The Devils (21-15-3), put in a valiant effort against the Tampa Bay Lightning Thursday night despite injuries. Despite erasing a 3-1 deficit, they couldn’t get the extra point and fell in overtime 4-3. As for the Panthers (27-12-2), they enter tonight off a massive overtime win against the Los Angeles Kings.
These two teams met way back on October 16. It was just the third game of the season for the Devils, yet foreshadowed so much of this season. Poor defending and goaltending put them in a 4-0 hole, but the offence crawled them back into the game. They made a late third-period push but it wasn’t enough, and the Devils ended the night with a 4-3 defeat. This time around the Devils travel down to Sunrise, FL with a laundry list of injuries and a dream.
NHL Predictions: New Jersey vs. Florida
Three Keys to Victory for New Jersey
Please Someone Make A Save
It’s official. The New Jersey Devils have the worst goalie in the NHL. After another stinker of a performance, Vitek Vanecek is dead last in the NHL in Goals Saved Above Expected. Vanecek saved just 16 of 20 shots against the Lightning, with a -1.72 GSAx. That brings his total GSAx to an impressively bad -13.4. This problem is nothing new, but watching the undermanned Devils show up and play their tails off, it’s incredibly disheartening that the goalie can’t hold their end of the bargain. Unfortunately, it won’t be any easier against the Panthers. Last year’s Eastern Conference champs are third in the league in Expected Goals Percentage and fifth in Shots on Goal. Plain and simple, the Devils are going to need a save. They likely go back to Nico Daws in the net, who despite letting in five against Vancouver, has been solid. For the Devils to pull off the upset, they’ll need their goalie, likely Daws, to be at a minimum, an average goalie.
Bring The Intensity
With all the injuries the Devils have faced, it would have been easy for them to roll over. Yet, their performance against the Lightning was encouraging that they might be able to stay afloat while they wait for key players to return. The Devils iced one of their worst lineups in recent memory which featured an entire line made up of AHL call-ups. However, they brought it to the Lightning for large portions of the game, and probably deserved the win. They were heavy on the forecheck and the cycle game, particularly at 5v5. They outshot the Lightning 30-20 and at 5v5 had a dominating 2.39 Expected Goals, compared to Tampa’s 0.94. It will be a much tougher task to dominate like that against the Panthers, but if they have the same effort as they did the other night, then they certainly can steal a point.
Feed The Merc-dog
After going pointless over the first 10 games of the season, Dawson Mercer has begun to find his magic again. He potted his 13 goal of the season against the Lightning on a beautiful power move to the net. In addition, just a few games prior he scored two goals in a massive win for the Devils over the Capitals. Since his ice-cold start, Mercer is back to playing like the identity player he is. He’s returned to battling at the net front, getting in on the forecheck with speed, and breaking up plays with his stick in all three zones. Mercer may not be the flashiest on a team with Jack Hughes and Jesper Bratt, but he is exactly the type of player that Stanley Cup teams need. And with the bevy of injuries to key forwards, Mercer is getting a chance to play big minutes. Against the Lightning, he had a season-high 22:22 in ice time. He’s been known to be a bit of a streaky player, and for the Devils sake, a Dawson Mercer hot streak would be greatly appreciated right now.
Despite the goaltending letting them down yet again, this team deserves all the credit in the world for the effort they showed against the Lightning. As previously mentioned, if they show up with that type of effort night in and night out, they will find themselves picking up points. Tonight versus the Panthers though proves a tough task. They are fast and physical and have given the Devils trouble in recent years. Similar to the Lightning game, if they lose because of a talent discrepancy then fine, but don’t lose because of a lack of effort.
Prediction: Panthers Win 5-2
Main Photo: John Jones-USA TODAY Sports
The post NHL Predictions: Devils Desperate For Win Against Panthers appeared first on Last Word On Hockey.