The New Jersey Devils are a tough team to figure.
By the time the regular season ends, will their 21-4-1 start turn out to be a true reading of their talent? Or are the real Devils more in line with their current six-game losing streak?
New Jersey, which fell 4-1 to the host Carolina Hurricanes on Tuesday, will look to end the skid when it faces the Florida Panthers on Wednesday in Sunrise, Fla. The Panthers beat the Devils 4-2 on Saturday in Newark, N.J.
“Our group as a whole has to be better,” Devils coach Lindy Ruff said.
Ruff, who is fifth on the all-time NHL wins list, could be on the proverbial hot seat if the current losing streak (0-5-1) continues much longer.
But perhaps the skid is a blip on the radar. Perhaps the Devils will revert back to their season-opening form, when things looked so promising for a squad led by forwards Jack Hughes, Jesper Bratt and Nico Hischier.
All three of those players are younger than 25. Hughes, 21, leads the team in goals (17) and points (37). Bratt has 31 points and a team-high 21 assists, and Hischier, 23, has 29 points. Dawson Mercer, 21, is fifth on the team with 18 points.
Defenseman Dougie Hamilton, who is fourth on the squad with 24 points, is one of the team’s veteran leaders at age 29. This season the Devils added winger Eric Haula, who has brought grit, and goalie Vitek Vanecek, who is 12-4-2 after taking the loss on Tuesday.
Another leader who is new to the Devils this season is winger Ondrej Palat, who has been limited to six games and hasn’t played since October due to a groin injury.
New Jersey assistant Andrew Brunette, who was Florida’s interim head coach last season when the Panthers had the best regular-season record in the league, runs the Devils’ power play.
The Devils sit 25th in the league with the man advantage (19.2 percent), one spot ahead of the Panthers (18.3 percent).
Florida is coming off a 7-3 road loss against the Boston Bruins on Monday night. Spencer Knight (8-5-3, 2.93 goals-against average) allowed all seven goals in his first game since Dec. 6. He missed the previous six contests due to an illness.
Sergei Bobrovsky, who started every game while Knight was out, likely will get the start for Florida on Wednesday. Bobrovsky is 7-9-1 with a 3.26 GAA.
After losing more games than he is accustomed to earlier this season, Bobrovsky has allowed just five goals in his past three games, going 2-1-0.
“He’s back and he’s right,” Panthers coach Paul Maurice said of Bobrovsky, who led the NHL with 39 wins last season. “He deserves credit. It’s not easy for a player of his pedigree to struggle and then fight your way back.”
Florida’s offense is led by Matthew Tkachuk and Carter Verhaeghe. Tkachuk tops the team in assists (25) and points (39). Verhaeghe is the Panthers’ top goal-scorer with 17.
However, perhaps Florida’s hottest player is Sam Reinhart, who has scored at least one goal in four straight games. Reinhart has five goals and three assists during that span.
For the season, Reinhart has 12 goals and 12 assists. He also has nine goals in 24 career games against the Devils.
Panthers team captain Aleksander Barkov missed the Bruins game due to a lower-body injury. He is questionable for the Wednesday game.
–Field Level Media