In the week leading up to the opening game between the Florida Panthers and the New Jersey Devils, SBNation New York will take a look at all aspects of the first-round matchup. Make sure to check out SBNation's StoryStream for all the news and analysis of the series.
The New Jersey Devils have a big advantage offensively over the Florida Panthers, with at least three lines capable of scoring when on the ice.
But, when looking at the team's defensive depth, the matchup becomes much closer.
The Florida Panthers blueline is led by Brian Campbell, who some argue is one of the best defensemen in the team's history. His offensive performance was outstanding. He totalled 53 points this season, which included 49 assists. He led the team in that category, and was second in the league in helpers. He made up for about 14 percent of the team's assists. Those are ridiculous numbers from the blueline, and it gives the Panthers something the Devils lack - a true offensive defenseman.
Campbell also took care of his own end, leading the Panthers with a 4.43 Corsi rating. He was just one of two Panthers defensemen to finish with a positive Corsi rating, which takes into account the on-ice shot differential. There's no question that Campbell is a complete defenseman, and one that gives Florida an advantage in the series.
But past Campbell, there's not too much that's impressive. Jason Garrisson can also score (16g, 17a), but he hasn't done much during the second half of the season. He's the only other defensemen to post a positive Cori rating (team-leading 5.32).
Mike Weaver, Dmitry Kulikov, Ed Jovanovski and Eric Gudbranson round out Florida's defense. Kulikov is the big hitter, but Gudbranson led the team with 154 hits. All four of those players carry a negative Corsi rating, and the team's save percentage actually drops when they're on the ice. Look for New Jersey to exploit those matchups.
New Jersey lacks the true offensive defenseman that Florida has in Campbell. Adam Larsson led all blueliners with just 18 points (2g, 16a), and the rookie has found himself fighting to keep his spot in the lineup. Andy Greene, who was always expected to fill that role, finished the year with just 16 points (1g, 15a). Marek Zidlicky has found success in New Jersey, with all eight points this season coming in his 22 games in a Devils sweater. The lack of defensive scoring is a huge weakness on this team, and one that could come back to haunt them.
What the Devils lack in defensive scoring, they more than make up for in physical play. Anton Volchenkov led the team with 177 hits, and Bryce Salvador finished third on the team with 106. New Jersey's defense isn't afraid to bring the body, and they'll use it with regularity against the Florida forwards. The group won't be confused for the heavy hitting Scott Stevens and Ken Daneyko days, but they play with enough force to disrupt an opponent.
Unlike Florida, the majority of the Devils defense posted positive Corsi numbers. Only Salvador finished with a negative Corsi rating. The team was still 23rd in goals against, allowing 195.
Coach Peter DeBoer doesn't believe a good playoff team needs a headline-grabbing defenseman like Campbell to be successful.
"I haven't looked back," DeBoer told Tom Gulitti of The Bergen Record. "I don't think that's the rule that every Stanley Cup champion over the years has had that type of guy. Those guys are few and far between and there's a lot of good teams that don't have that luxury."
Even though the teams are even on paper, with Florida holding an advantage in defensive scoring, DeBoer thinks his players are more than capable of getting the job done.
"i think so," he told Gulitti. "I know from outsiders looking in, the names on the piece of paper don't wow you, but I think they defend by committee. There's no egos back there. They just want to do a good job and get the job done. I think they've been quietly very effective."