So far this season, the New Jersey Devils haven't looked much like the team that set a franchise record for wins last year en route to its second straight Atlantic Division title. The Florida Panthers, though, have looked a lot like a team coming off its fifth straight fourth-place finish.
The Devils look to even their record on Thursday against the only team they've beaten this year as they visit the Panthers, who are hoping to avoid the first 0-4-0 start in franchise history.
New Jersey (1-2-0) made its 10th straight postseason appearance after compiling a 49-24-9 record in the regular season last year. Reigning Vezina Trophy-winning goaltender Martin Brodeur set a single-season record with 48 wins, and helped the Devils tie for third in the league with a 2.35 goals-against per game average.
This year, however, they've already given up eight goals while losing two of their first three contests. They fell behind 2-0 in the first period of a 4-2 loss at Ottawa on Monday.
"To win in this league - to win in any league - you've got to play well for 60 minutes," first-year Devils coach Brent Sutter said, "and it's two games in a row where we haven't had a good first period, and three games in a row where we've got one period where we haven't played well because we're not doing what we need to do to be successful."
A meeting with the Panthers (0-3-0) could help Sutter's club rebound. New Jersey beat Florida 4-1 on Saturday to improve to 15-4-0 with one tie in road games against Florida since the start of the 1997-98 season. Overall, the Devils are 26-6-0 with three ties in their last 35 games against the Panthers.
"The main thing is I want these players to have success," Sutter said Saturday.
Brodeur is 30-10-0 with seven ties and a 1.96 goals-against average in 47 career games against Florida.
Florida fell to 0-3-0 for the first time since the lockout-shortened 1994-95 season with a 2-1 loss at Tampa Bay on Wednesday, but coach Jacques Martin was encouraged by his team's performance.
"That was probably our best game since the start of the season," he said. "I think we created some more chances and made some good saves. We just didn't finish at times, but we did a lot of things better."
Despite the progress, Florida had 30 of its shots blocked and didn't get many opportunities off rebounds.
"You need to have a purpose when you go to the net," said Florida captain Olli Jokinen, who assisted the team's only goal Wednesday. "You just don't go there because the coach tells you to go. You have to have that fire in your eyes. You have to think there's going to be a rebound. You have to be ready to put the puck in."
Florida looks to rebound at home, where it was 23-12-6 last season, including 1-0-1 against New Jersey.
The Devils, meanwhile, are hoping to return to their form from last season, when they were one of the NHL's best road teams. They have six road games remaining before they return to Newark for their home opener against Ottawa on Oct. 27.
Florida Panthers News & Notes
5 THINGS EVERYONE SHOULD KNOW ABOUT TONIGHT'S GAME:
5. The Devils are the first two home opponents for Florida this season.
4. C Olli Jokinen needs only 1 more assist to tie Scott Mellanby for 2nd on the Cats All-time list with 197 assists as a Panther.
3. Tonight marks the first back end of games on back-to-back nights for the Panthers. They will play back-to-back games 14 times this season.
2. Florida has outshot its opponent in all 3 games this season and have outshot their opponents by a combined 93-72 in the first 3 games.
1. Tonight, Panthers head coach Jacques Martin will coach in his 1020th game passing Pat Burns for 9th place on the NHL's All-time Games Coached list.