Florida: 22-23-6 (50PTS)
New Jersey: 18-30-3 (39PTS)
Season Series: 1-0-1 New Jersey
After starting out their season in the league basement and seeing coach John MacLean fired and replaced with former coach Jacques Lemaire, the New Jersey Devils are one of the hottest teams in the league the second half. After losing their first three games after Lemaire's hire in late December, the Devils were 6-5-1 in the month of January, were 8-1-1 in their last 10 and are on a 2 game win streak. Their win last night against the Rangers has brought them up out of last place, to be replaced by the struggling Edmonton Oilers. The Panthers, coming off of losses in Toronto and Montreal on Tuesday and Wednesday, are 3-3-4 in their last 10. The overtime loss in Toronto put them one point closer to division rivals 9th place Carolina (56PTS) and 8th place Atlanta (57PTS) as both are on 2 game loss streaks. Both are off tonight. The only other Southeast Division action is in Tampa Bay, where the division leading Lightning are hosting the Washington Capitals.
The first game between the two teams was January 15 in Florida. The Panthers won that game in overtime, giving them a 3 game win streak. Captain Bryan McCabe suffered a broken jaw in the game and has been out ever since. The Panthers have only one win (1-3-4) in the 8 games they've played since McCabe's injury, fueling speculation of a trade deadline fire sale, including not only pending UFA's McCabe, Tomas Vokoun, Cory Stillman and Radek Dvorak, but also long-time forward Stephen Weiss. The Panthers have since lost forwards Shawn Matthias and Evgeni Dadonov to injury.
Forward Scott Timmins, called up to replace Matthias, played his first NHL game in Toronto on Tuesday, scoring a goal. He took 11 shifts for 8:42 of ice time, was a +1 and won 57% of his face-offs. He had no points and two penalty minutes the next night in Montreal. Pete DeBoer put him out for 14 shifts and 10:25. Despite putting up no points, his plus/minus was even and he and won 75% of his face-offs.
Tonight's line-up appears to be the same as in Montreal. Timmins will line up with Steve Bernier and Darcy Horduchuk on the fourth line and Frolik will again take his spot up front with Weiss and Chris Higgins. Tomas Vokoun will be in goal again, against New Jersey's Johan Hedberg.
As always, the Panthers need to play a complete game tonight to think about getting a win and keeping their slim playoff hopes alive. Look for Defensemen Dmitri Kulikov and Keaton Ellerby to continue to get more comfortable playing together and for Ellerby to throw some big hits. Weiss and Booth have started scoring again in the last few games, but need to pick up the pace. Coach DeBoer also needs to start thinking about playing the veteran-laden third line of Stillman, Dvorak and Marty Reasoner a few less shifts a game. They're starting to look tired and made some big mistakes in the last couple of games that led to goals against.
More from our New Jersey cohorts at In Lou We Trust
Panthers vs Devils coverage at SBNation.com