Devils-Panthers Preview

For most teams a three-game winning streak is common, but it
would be the longest in more than a year for the New Jersey Devils
while the Florida Panthers would match a season high.

Only one team will achieve that Saturday night when the
NHL-worst Devils visit the last-place Panthers for the first of
three meetings in just under three weeks.

While New Jersey (12-29-2) and Florida (20-20-2) have struggled
for much of the 2010-11, both clubs have shown signs of putting
together strong stretches.

The Devils are coming off two impressive performances over
Southeast Division-leading Tampa Bay, winning 5-2 on Friday after
setting a season-high for goals in a 6-3 victory Sunday.

New Jersey’s scoring output against the Lightning came after it
was outscored 42-16 during a 1-10-0 stretch. Friday’s win also
snapped an 11-game road losing streak since beating defending
Stanley Cup champion Chicago on Nov. 3.

“You could tell because every time we’d take the bus everybody’s
sad or mad or not happy,” goaltender Martin Brodeur said of the
Devils’ struggles on the road, where they’re 5-16-0. “At least for
the time being we’ll be able to talk to each other on the bus on
the way to the airport.”

The Devils haven’t won three in a row since a five-game run from
Dec. 12-21, 2009.

Concluding this three-game trip against the New York Islanders
on Monday might give New Jersey a chance to get closer to matching
that streak, but first they’ll have to contend with the
Panthers.

The Devils and Panthers split four meetings last season,
including two at the BankAtlantic Center.

Florida has won the first two games of its six-game homestand,
following up Tuesday’s 4-3 overtime win over Washington with a 3-2
victory against Nashville on Wednesday.

The Panthers, 3-1-1 in the last five home meetings with New
Jersey, are in position to match their longest winning streak from
Dec. 4-9. They’ve gained confidence after Rostislav Olesz and David
Booth scored 2:14 apart late in the third period to rally over the
Predators.

“It was a character win,” coach Peter DeBoer said. “…We’re not
a team that can make five passes all the way up the ice and is not
going to ‘wow’ anyone with our skills, so we have to score those
dirty goals and get to the net.”

Booth has three goals and two assists in his last four games.
He’s also been very effective at home, scoring 11 of his team-high
13 goals there after getting one in each of the last three games in
south Florida.

Booth has no points in his last two meetings with the Devils
after getting three goals and three assists in the previous
five.

New Jersey is finally getting production from star Ilya
Kovalchuk, who scored two goals Friday after setting up two Sunday.
His 12 goals lead the team, but also has the worst plus/minus
rating in the league at minus-27.

Kovalchuk has 31 goals and 28 assists in 49 games against the
Panthers.

These teams meet on Jan. 23 and Feb. 4 in New Jersey.