SUNRISE, FL - NOVEMBER 21: Shawn Matthias #18 of the Florida Panthers and Rod Pelley #10 of the New Jersey Devils fight during the second period on November 21, 2011 at the BankAtlantic Center in Sunrise, Florida. (Photo by Joel Auerbach/Getty Images)
It's easy to look at numbers and past performances to predict how the Panthers and Devils will play in a rematch of the 2000 Eastern Conference Quarterfinals. The Devils and Cats haven't played each other since February 11th, which is why I asked Devils blogger (and resident Daria fanboy) at SB Nation's In Lou We Trust Kevin Sellathamby a few questions about his team. You can follow Kevin on twitter @NonAmericanHero for the series, and feel free to ask him questions.
1. Last season the Devils finished dead last in the NHL in goals for, this year they finished 11th. How did that happen?
A lot of it had to do with the Devils shooting at an abysmal 6.5% last year, worst in the NHL. Zach Parise's injury and Ilya Kovalchuk not getting a full training camp (also- John MacLean and Jamie Langenbrunner's sideshow) didn't help either.
This year's a bit different- Zach Parise (31 goals) is healthy again, Ilya Kovalchuk (37 goals) got a full offseason to train and Patrik Elias (26 goals) has been his usual self. I feel secondary scoring has been much better- David Clarkson (30 goals), Petr Sykora (22 goals), Dainius Zubrus (17 goals) and Adam Henrique (16 goals) have also chipped in a bit. Alexei Ponikarovsky has scored 8 goals since being acquired from Carolina, which has also helped. Because Elias can take the tough defensive assignments, Kovalchuk and Parise have to worry less about defense while guys like Clarkson and Ponikarovsky get to face weaker competition.
Also, the addition of Marek Zidlicky should boost the team's offensive capabilities now that they have a legitimate puck moving defenseman.
2. Does Martin Brodeur have anything left, or should we be more afraid of Johan Hedberg?
Brodeur's season stats aren't really reflective of how well he's performed. Before the all-star break, the team was hit hard with injuries (Travis Zajac and Jacob Josefson, two top 6 calibre forwards were hurt) and the defense was decimated by injuries at one point- at one point even Brodeur suffered an injury, keeping him out for most of October. When the Devils were able to get healthy (namely Andy Greene and Josefson), Brodeur performed much better (2.77/.894 pre-ASG vs 2.05/.921 post-ASG).
As for Hedberg, he hasn't been used nearly as much post-ASG, but he's probably going to come in if Brodeur's hurt or gets pulled.
3. Does this series mean a little more with Peter DeBoer behind the bench?
I'd have to assume it does mean a lot to DeBoer. Dale Tallon felt DeBoer wasn't the guy he wanted coaching his team and instead went with Dineen. DeBoer has a chip on his shoulder, seeing as he wasn't given a lot to work with in his time in Florida. Emotions kinda caught up with him in the first matchup (where the panthers came back from a 3-0 deficit), but I think he's more than ready to get some revenge.
4. How has Adam Larsson been considering expectations this season?
It's been an up and down year for him. He leads all Devils defensemen in points and ATOI this season, but ever since slamming into the boards after a P,K, Subban hit in early February, he's struggled alot since returning. He didn't look that bad in his last game against Ottawa, but I'm not sure whether or not he will play in the first round. For now i'd assume DeBoer sticks with Peter Harrold until he screws up or Henrik Tallinder is able to return from injury, which is highly doubtful seeing as he's been ruled out of the playoffs by GM Lou Lamoriello.
Back in January, Tom Stivali took a look at Kovalchuk's performance shorthanded. He's fit in pretty well, simply because he's able to do what makes the Devils penalty kill so effective- preventing shots on goal. But what makes him even more effective is that when he has the puck shorthanded, he's willing to attack. He's scored 3 shorthanded goals (one of four Devils with at least 3 SHGs- the other three being Zach Parise, Dainius Zubrus and Adam Henrique) as well. He hasn't had the benefit of having one of the top penalty killing centers with him either- he's usually been paired with Ryan Carter or Jacob Josefson, so it's not like you can discount him because he's been riding shotgun with Patrik Elias shorthanded.
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