The New Jersey Devils and the host Florida Panthers will end their disappointing seasons against each other on Saturday night.
Last season, the Devils were the last team in for the Eastern Conference playoffs, earning 97 points, and the Panthers were the first squad out with 96 points.
This season, the Devils are the third-worst team in the NHL with 70 points. The Panthers, eliminated from playoff contention last week, have not been as bad overall (85 points). But Florida's defense has been awful.
In fact, the Panthers, with 269 goals allowed, and the Devils (268), are two of the six worst defensive teams in the NHL.
Perhaps the Devils were a bit of a fluke last season, when Taylor Hall scored 39 goals and totaled 93 points -- both career highs -- earning NHL Most Valuable Player honors. That stands as the first time in history that a Devils player has won the Hart Trophy.
This season, Hall has been held to 11 goals and 37 points in just 33 games. He hasn't played since Dec. 23 due to surgery on his left knee.
Even so, Devils coach John Hynes said his team has given good effort throughout the season.
The issue with New Jersey lies elsewhere.
"Mental mistakes -- we've made those all year long," Hynes said. "It's just making decisions at the right time."
Winger Kyle Palmieri, who leads the Devils in goals (27) and points (50), has missed the past two games due to a lower-body injury and is doubtful for Saturday night. Wingers Kurtis Gabriel (upper body) and Jesper Bratt (lower body) and defensemen Sami Vatanen (illness) are also out for New Jersey.
The Panthers, meanwhile, have been fairly healthy this season with the primary exception of second-line center Vincent Trocheck, who was an NHL All-Star in 2018 for scoring a career-best 31 goals and playing in all 82 games.
This season, Trocheck got hurt in the middle of the season. He is healthy now, but the speedy 25-year-old has been held to 10 goals in 54 games.
If Trocheck returns to form next season, the Panthers offense could be truly special. As it is, they have two 90-point players for the first time in franchise history -- center Aleksander Barkov (94) and winger Jonathan Huberdeau (90).
Barkov needs just one more point to break the franchise single-season scoring record he currently shares with Pavel Bure.
In all, five Panthers forwards have had career years in goals: Mike Hoffman (35), Barkov (34), Huberdeau (29), Evgenii Dadonov (tying 28) and Frank Vatrano (24).
Panthers defenseman Keith Yandle (52 assists) is one of the top power-play quarterbacks in the league, getting 39 of his 61 points with the man advantage. Two other Panthers defensemen -- Aaron Ekblad (13 goals) and Mike Matheson (eight goals) -- are always eager to join the rush.
The problem, as mentioned, is what happens on defense. Yandle and Matheson have been turnover prone, and Panthers goalies Roberto Luongo (3.10 goals-against average), James Reimer (3.09) and Sam Montembeault (3.05) have not successfully survived the onslaught.
Luongo, who turned 40 on Thursday, is set to start against the Devils and has two years left on his contract.
Montembeault, a 22-year-old playing his first season in the NHL, started his 10th game on Thursday. He was outstanding in a 2-1 shootout loss to the New York Islanders, giving Florida hope for the future.
"He's going to be a really good goalie," Huberdeau said of Montembeault. "We're glad to have him."
--Field Level Media
Panthers, Devils conclude lackluster campaigns
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