Last night, the 2012 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs started with a bang. After just three games you could see the players skating faster, passing crisper, shooting sharper and hitting harder. The Predators took it to the visiting Red Wings, 3-2, the Flyers overcame a three goal deficit to the Penguins to win in overtime, 4-3, and the eighth seeded Kings surprised the Canucks, 4-2.
Tonight, we'll get yet another look at how other cities are enjoying the extra hockey, as New York, Boston, St. Louis, and Phoenix host the openers of their respective playoff series. Unlike seemingly every other season, however, the Florida Panthers will also be joining the party, starting tomorrow night. Yesterday we took a look at the New Jersey Devils forward corps, and what we can expect from each of their four lines. Let's take a look at the blue line crew and goaltender, after the jump.
First Pairing: Andy Greene (1G, 15A) - Mark Fayne (4G, 13A)
Greene is a solid puck-moving defenseman, is a good team player, and is equally good when controlling the puck or otherwise. Fayne is the Devils leading goal scorer among defensemen, with four. He's a big guy, and uses his instincts to place himself very well for blocking shots. Both are good position players, but neither is a legitimate threat to light it up. Their value truly lies in their defensive play.
Second Pairing: Bryce Salvador (0G, 9A) - Marek Zidlicky (2G, 6A)
Salvador is noticeably outmatched against quick wingers like Kris Versteeg and Scottie Upshall. His value lies in his crushing body checks. Like his mates in the first pairing, he is not much of an offensive threat. Zidlicky joined the team from the Minnesota Wild midway through the season, and is a deceptive offensive threat. He's a clever passing power play specialist with a heavy shot. Sometimes, he's a little weak in the defensive zone, prone to bad decisions which result in turnovers.
Third Pairing: Anton Volchenkov (2G, 9A) - Peter Harrold (0G, 2A)
Volchenkov is a powerful hitter and a great shot blocker, a true stay-at-home defenseman. What Harrold may lack in consistency he makes up for with his efficient defensive zone play. To this point, he is a replacement level NHL player on his fourth call-up from Albany this season, and has only 11 games this year.
The Devils boast a stable of truly defensive defensemen. For perspective, Florida's top six defensive corps has totalled 29 goals and 122 assists this season, for 151 points. New Jersey's playoff starting six has totalled nine goals and 54 assists, or 63 points for those math challenged Panthers fans out there.
Goaltenders: Martin Brodeur (31-21-4, .908, 2.41) and Johan Hedburg (17-7-2, .918, 2.23)
What could I possibly write about Brodeur that you don't already know. A dead lock first-ballot Hall-of-Famer in his 19th season, he owns every major NHL goaltending record, including 1,191 games, 656 wins, 27,312 saves and 119 shutouts. He is the owner of three Stanley Cup Championship rings, and has a career playoff record of 99-82, with a .919 save percentage and a sparkling 2.01 GAA and an NHL record tying 23 playoff shutouts, with Patrick Roy. Do you think he would like to break that tie against the Panthers? At this point, however, Brodeur may be starting to show signs of his age (he'll be 40 next month). Everybody comes down to earth sometime, even certain Hall-of-Fame goaltenders. Brodeur is evenly matched at this point against Panthers starter Jose Theodore (22-16-11, .917, 2.46). Hedberg is a career number two goalie, with a career playoff record of 10-12. He's also a little long in the tooth, turning 39 the day before Martin's birthday. He matches up pretty well with Scott Clemmensen (14-6-6, .913, 2.57), who has appeared in one playoff game, playing for seven minutes and making three saves, with New Jersey six years ago.
New Jersey boasts a classic team of offensive forwards and stay-at-home defensemen, bolstered by an old warhorse goaltender. Florida's key in winning this series is not in scoring a lot of goals (although that certainly helps), but in restricting New Jersey's explosive group of forwards. My prediction - whoever wins this first game will win the series, and I say Florida wins tomorrow, 3-1.