Though the New Jersey Devils have struggled to achieve consistent results without their top goaltender, they’ve had far less trouble beating their next opponent in recent years.
Seeking to make it two in a row for the first time in more than a month, the Devils try for their 25th win in 33 tries against the Florida Panthers on Thursday night.
New Jersey (8-7-2) lost Martin Brodeur to a torn biceps muscle at the start of November, and has since dropped five of seven games. The four-time Vezina Trophy winner is expected to miss four months, leaving the Devils to rely for now on Kevin Weekes and Scott Clemmensen, who have compiled a collective 3.29 goals-against average in Brodeur’s absence.
They surrendered 11 goals during a four-game losing streak, but New Jersey snapped it with 6-5 shootout victory over visiting Washington on Saturday to earn a split of the home-and-home series.
Clemmensen, making his second straight start, made 20 saves through overtime then prevented all three attempts in the tiebreaker as the Devils kicked off a three-game homestand by improving to 5-4-1 at the Prudential Center.
“I want to play well,” Clemmensen said. “I’m not trying to replace Marty, but the situation is what it is, and I’m trying to showcase what I can do out there.”
Clemmensen has never faced Florida (7-9-1), meaning New Jersey could turn to Weekes as he is 8-3-1 with two ties and a 1.79 GAA in his last 14 appearances against the Panthers, who he played with as a rookie in 1997-98.
The Devils will be trying to win back-to-back contests for the first time since reeling off a season-high three straight from Oct. 16-18.
That might not be too difficult considering their recent success against the Panthers. New Jersey split four games with Florida in 2007-08, but is 36-18-0 with seven ties all-time, and 19-8-0 with three ties at home.
The Devils also own a 24-8-0 series advantage since Jan. 26, 2000, outscoring the Panthers 97-64.
Florida’s lack of success versus New Jersey might make it hard to continue its current surge. The Panthers won three of four following an 0-5-1 slide, earning a 4-3 shootout victory at Tampa Bay on Tuesday in the opener of a three-game road trip.
Bryan McCabe scored twice in regulation, pushing his point streak to four games in which he has three goals and two assists. Nathan Horton, the Panthers’ leader with 11 points, scored the lone shootout goal.
Tomas Vokoun made a season-high 49 saves through overtime - one shy of the career best he set in a win over Detroit on Dec. 23, 1998 while playing for Nashville - and stopped all three attempts he faced in the tiebreaker to end a personal five-start losing streak.
“Obviously, we got to be tighter, but we won the game,” said Vokoun, who is 4-3-1 with a 2.49 GAA in eight career starts versus the Devils. “We’ve been a fragile team. We’ve had some tough times, and the win is as important as anything in this game.”
Zach Parise - New Jersey’s leader with 12 goals and 20 points - has three goals and three assists in his last five games, and two goals and four assists in his last eight versus Florida.