New Jersey Devils head coach Peter DeBoer wants to beat the Florida Panthers, and he's not making it a secret.
"Sure, I looked when we were going to go back to Florida. Absolutely," DeBoer told Tom Gulitti of The Bergen Record. "I've got three years of friendships here and I follow the team closely. I poured a lot of hours into the individual players here and watched them grow - the (Jason) Garrisons of the world and the (Dmitry) Kulikovs and (Stephen) Weisses and those type of guys. So, sure you follow them and you circle when you're going to get down there."
DeBoer will look to defeat his former team tonight as the New Jersey Devils finish off their five game road trip against the Florida Panthers on MSG Plus.
DeBoer got his first coaching job with the Panthers in 2008. In three years with them, he went 103-107-36. The team never made the playoffs, but came close in his first season, losing a tiebreaker to the Montreal Canadiens. While with the team, he underwent two general manager changes and a change in ownership.
After he was fired in April, DeBoer said he felt disappointment.
"Disappointment in not finishing the job you started," he told Gulitti. "It's the first time I've been in that situation where you take a job with great expectations and leave without having finished what you started. A lot of factors went into that, but that's my general feeling."
It's not just the former coach that wants to beat Florida. Many of DeBoer's former players want to beat their old coach.
"You've got more freedom to do what you want on the ice (under new coach Kevin Dineen)," defenseman Dmitry Kulikov told the SunSentinel. "You feel if you make a mistake you can make up for it on the next shift.
"With Pete, it's one mistake and you're shaking for the rest of the game."
New Jersey enters tonight's matchup riding a two-game win streak. They won their first game of a two game Florida swing, defeating the Tampa Bay Lightning, 4-2, Saturday night in Tampa. The Devils scored three goals in the second period, jumping out ahead at the end of the middle frame. Tampa Bay made it interesting, with two goals in the third period to pull within one. But a costly mistake by Dwayne Roloson led to an empty net goal from Ryan Carter that clinched the win.
The Devils are 3-1-0 on their recent five game road trip, and are in a four-way tie for the eighth seed in the Eastern Conference. It's the first time since opening night that New Jersey is in the top eight of the conference.
Florida currently sits first in the Southeast Conference and is one of this season's early suprises. New Panther Kris Versteeg leads the team in goals, assists and points.
The Panthers defeated the PIttsburgh Penguins, 3-2, for their 10th win Saturday night. Stephen Weiss broke a 2-2 tie in the third period to give Florida the win. Jose Theodore stopped 39 shots for his seventh win of the season.
Martin Brodeur, who will start tonight's game, said the team understands how DeBoer feels.
"I think it's similar to a guy that gets traded or moves on from a different place," Brodeur told Gulitti. "He's got some history here and left this organization and they spent a lot of money on the team. I think he's just like as a player. I'm not in the shoes of a coach, but if you're competitive any bit when you face your old teammates or your old organization, it's something."