New Jersey Devils at Florida Panthers game preview
SUNRISE, Fla. — Dave Barr can’t be happy.
Barr is the assistant coach who came over from the Buffalo Sabres this year to fix the Florida Panthers’ power play.
The Panthers (4-5-1) enter Thursday’s home game against the well-rested New Jersey Devils (4-2-2) at BB&T Center with a power play that is sputtering.
In a 2-1 loss to the Boston Bruins on Tuesday night, the Panthers had seven man-advantage situations and still managed to get outscored 1-0 in those instances.
Yes, that’s right: Florida went 0-for-7 on the power play while also allowing one short-handed goal. And now they face a Devils team that hasn’t played since Saturday.
"We’ve got to work on our power play — that’s the bottom line," Panthers coach Gerard Gallant said. "When you stand around and try to make cute plays like we did, it’s not going to work."
The Panthers will face another good penalty-killing team on Thursday in the Devils, who are at 86 percent on their PK unit.
The Panthers have other issues as well.
Goalie Roberto Luongo, who has not played poorly, did give up a bad-angle shot on Tuesday and is now on a personal three-game losing streak.
In addition, the Panthers, who won the Atlantic Division last season, are without three of their top six forwards: Jonathan Huberdeau, Nick Bjugstad and Jussi Jokinen. The return of Huberdeau is still at least a couple months away, but Bjugstad and Jokinen could be back in a couple of weeks.
Meanwhile, the Devils, who have missed the playoffs in each of the past four years, have been encouraged by their start. The team is largely predicated on the play of their two biggest stars, goalie Cory Schneider and left wing Taylor Hall.
Schneider, 30, is off to a great start, with a 4-2-1 record and a 1.86 goals-against average. He has stopped 94.1 percent of the shots he has faced. His GAA and save percentage would be career highs — including the minor leagues — if they were to hold up at those rates.
Hall, acquired in an offseason trade with the Edmonton Oilers, has been outstanding, with five goals and two assists — sparking what had been a weak attack. Hall also had an overtime game-winner against the Minnesota Wild.
The 24-year-old Hall, who was the first overall pick in the 2010 NHL Draft, has been the spark the Devils wanted when they traded defenseman Adam Larsson.
"When he gets going, it’s good for our whole team," Schneider said.
Devils general manager Ray Shero, who is in his second year running New Jersey’s hockey operation, added Hall to a forward group that includes Adam Henrique and Kyle Palmieri, who both scored 30 goals last season.
The Devils also have high hopes for Pavel Zacha, their first-round pick (sixth overall) in 2015. The 19-year-old has three assists in eight games but is still looking for his first NHL goal.
Florida has its own 19-year-old rookie forward in Denis Malgin, who came through with his first NHL goal in Tuesday’s loss to the Bruins.
Amid their current funk of four losses in five games, the most positive Panthers storyline has been the play of two free-agent signings: right wingers Jonathan Marchessault and Colton Sceviour.
The Panthers gave each of those lightly tested wingers two-year contracts on July 1 — moves that look wise, at least for the moment.
Marchessault, 25, had seven goals and 11 assists in 45 games last season for the Tampa Bay Lightning. On Tuesday, he was named the NHL’s Third Star for October, tying for the league lead with six goals and adding five assists in nine games.
Sceviour, 27, has five goals and two assists. He had 11 goals and 12 assists in 71 games last season for the Dallas Stars.
They have joined forces with Panthers veterans such as right winger Jaromir Jagr, who on Thursday is expected to play in his 1,640th NHL game, moving him into sole possession of sixth place in league history.
The Panthers also have young star center Aleksander Barkov, who is probably their best all-around forward, emerging center Vincent Trocheck and veteran center Derek Mackenzie, who is the team captain.
It’s an interesting blend of young and old, from 44-year-old Jagr to the teenage Malgin. When they are right, the Panthers are a speedy team with stellar goaltending and a defense that includes young All-Star Aaron Ekblad and power-play quarterback Keith Yandle.
But when they are not right, you get what happened on Tuesday: seven power plays, no goals and a short-hander allowed.
"The power play will be fine," Luongo insisted late Tuesday night. "But I’ve got to be better."