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with a lot of promise, but hes coming off a very ugly loss in his last fi

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    SUNRISE, Fla. -- Its Opening Night and virtually everyones optimistic at this point.But is there truly reason for optimism for the New Jersey Devils and/or the Florida Panthers, who will meet Thursday at the BB&T Center?For the Devils, the reason for hope revolves around left winger Taylor Hall, acquired June 29 in a trade with the Edmonton Oilers. The Devils gave up defenseman Adam Larsson to get Hall, who produced 26 goals and 39 assists last year.Hall, who turns 25 next month, has scored more than 20 goals in four of his six seasons in the NHL. He had more than a point a game in 2013-2014, when he posted 80 points in 75 games, and thats the kind of production the Devils are looking for from their speedy new forward.The Devils also made another move to add offense, picking up forward P.A. Parenteau on Tuesday after the New York Islanders released him. Parenteau, who had 20 goals and 21 assists with the Toronto Maple Leafs last year, is expected to play against the Panthers on Thursday.Hes a seasoned, veteran player, Devils coach John Hynes told the media. Hes played games -- it just hasnt been with us.Those additions -- especially acquiring Hall -- should help New Jersey, but its important to note that the Devils were 30th in the NHL in goals last season, and that went a long way toward sealing their fate of having just 84 points, 12th best in the Eastern Conference, and a fourth straight season without making the NHL playoffs.The picture is legitimately brighter for the Panthers -- at least if they can stay healthy.Florida won the Atlantic Division last year with 103 points before losing to the Islanders in six games in the first round of the playoffs.The Panthers hoped to build on that momentum by signing high-scoring defenseman Keith Yandle from the New York Rangers, empowering him as the point man on their power play and pairing him with rising star Aaron Ekblad.Florida also added Jason Demers and Mark Pysyk to their revamped defense.However, all the Panthers well-intentioned offseason moves have been stunted to some degree by two injuries.Right winger Jonathan Huberdeau (left foot) is out, possibly for as long as four months, after getting cut by a skate blade on Sunday. And earlier in the exhibition season, the Panthers lost center Nick Bjugstad (broken hand) for about a month.The Huberdeau injury breaks up the teams top trio, leaving Aleksander Barkov and Jaromir Jagr in search of chemistry with a new linemate.Bjugstads absence disrupts the teams second line.Florida is hoping that Jonathan Marchessault, a speedy forward acquired after he scored seven goals in 45 games with the Tampa Bay Lightning last year, can make up for some of the slack.Despite the injuries, Panthers coach Gerard Gallant is taking the high road.I like the players weve brought in, Gallant said. Weve moved forward the past two years. The hope is that we will move forward again this year.Thursdays game should feature two standout goalies. Floridas Roberto Luongo has made a quick recovery from offseason hip surgery and is expected to start for the Panthers. Cory Schneider is expected to start for New Jersey. Both goalies are considered solid candidates for the Vezina Trophy.Other players to watch include:-- Panthers defenseman Michael Matheson, a smooth-skating 22-year-old, could be a Rookie of the Year candidate if he plays up to his prospect rankings.-- New Jerseys Ben Lovejoy is the biggest addition to the defense. He signed a three-year deal after helping the Pittsburgh Penguins win the Stanley Cup last season.-- Panthers center Derek MacKenzie, 35, will be making his debut as a team captain.-- Devils center Pavel Zacha, who was the No. 6 pick in the 2015 NHL Draft, is only 19 years old but appears primed for a stellar rookie season.One of the biggest things to watch for Thursday -- and indeed all season for the Devils and Panthers -- is the toughness factor on defense.The Panthers added an offensive defenseman in Yandle, who has frequently been derelict in his defensive duties throughout his career. The Panthers also got rid of solid defensemen such as Brian Campbell, Dmitry Kulikov and Erik Gudbranson in the offseason.Similarly, the Devils traded away Larsson, who led the team in hits and ranked second in blocked shots.Which defense plays toughest could go a long way toward deciding Thursdays winner. Willie Horton - The Calgary Flames aim to bounce back from their first regulation home loss of the campaign on Friday night when they host a Detroit Red Wings club that they swept in three meetings a season ago. Sparky Anderson Jersey. Isner, ranked No. 14, won his eighth career singles title and took the title in New Zealand for the second time after his victory in 2010. The match was similar to Isners quarterfinal victory over fifth-seeded Philipp Kohlschreiber which went to three sets, all tiebreaks and contained no breaks of serve. Isner, ranked No. 14, won his eighth career singles title and took the title in New Zealand for the second time after his victory in 2010. The match was similar to Isners quarterfinal victory over fifth-seeded Philipp Kohlschreiber which went to three sets, all tiebreaks and contained no breaks of serve. Victor Martinez Jersey. Darren Helm scored on Detroits sixth attempt in the shootout and then Jonas Gustavsson stopped Andrew Shaws shot, lifting the Detroit Red Wings to a 5-4 win over the Chicago Blackhawks on Wednesday night. Travis Wood Jersey. To the surprise of many, it isnt the Wolverines but their in-state rivals the Michigan State Spartans. Each week, writer Brett Okamoto provides his take on the hottest topics in the world of mixed martial arts.This week, Okamoto squares off with UFC lightweight contender Michael Johnson?to discuss all things MMA. Johnson (16-10), headlines Saturdays UFC Fight Night card in Hidalgo, Texas, against Dustin Poirier (20-4).?1.?What is the final say on CM Punks UFC debut: inspirational or a joke?Johnson:?I cant sit here and watch what CM Punk did and call it inspirational. Yes, he went in there and fought a UFC fight, but I think he should have tested himself somewhere else before going in and giving a performance like that. Mickey Gall didnt even really do much. He took Punk right down and controlled him, and I think CM Punk didnt know what to expect once he started getting punched. To get an opportunity like that [and] fight for the biggest promotion -- thats a blessing. People work their entire life to get to that point and never do, and he was just given it. To go out there and perform like that? Thats not inspirational.Okamoto:?This topic has been beaten into the ground the last three days. To sum my thoughts up one more time: Punk won me over. Maybe Im being gullible, but I believe his interest in this sport was (and still is) genuine. I think the UFC saw an opportunity to monetize his debut and offered him a deal anyone in his position would have accepted. You cant fault Punk for taking a golden opportunity. I also think he looked very bad in his debut -- so bad the UFC cant justify giving him a second shot. I hope months from now we hear about Punk fighting with some random independent promotion, unbeknownst to the rest of the world, taking a fight against a similarly skilled opponent. He always said he was doing this for himself and no one else. Thatd be the way to prove it.2.?No UFC heavyweight champion has ever defended a title more than twice consecutively. Will Stipe Miocic become the first?Johnson:?Yes, I think Stipe will defend it more than twice. Its his attitude. The way hes approaching his last few fights and approaching the game, it just seems like he has no pressure on him. Thats very dangerous for opponents, when a fighter comes in and doesnt have any worries, just a great camp. I think thats what is setting him aside from everyone else right now.Okamoto:?Man, history says no -- and how can you disagree with history? Miocic is the 17th heavyweight champion in UFC history. There have definitely been champs before him I thought were up to the task, and they all fell. Not to mention, 2016 has been the year of fallen champs. I agree 100 percent with what Johnson said about Miocics demeanor. Hes a very comfortable champion. Hes got a lot of self-belief and his pulse never seems to go up, regardless of his surroundings. I want to say yes on this, but I cant get over the fact weve been here before and no one has been able to do it. My final answer is no.3.?Will Alistair Overeem ever make it to a UFC title fight again?Johnson:?I dont think hell ever get back from that performance [his loss to Miocic on Saturday in UFC 203] ?and he doesnt deserve to, if you ask me. I dont know what you can even say about a performance like that. I think it was a huge letdown. To see a guy fight like that in a championship fight makes you wonder if he even deserved to be in that fight. We all saw him running around. Thats not what people want to see. Alistair comes from a background as a great striker -- thats what people expected to see. They didnt expect to seee him turn his back and run from Stipe.dddddddddddd I dont know if that was his game plan, to try and lure Stipe into something -- we saw Overeem drop Stipe once -- but after that it didnt work, and I thought he fought really scared. I dont think he deserves another shot at all.Okamoto:?This is a tough one. I worry about Overeems ability to take a shot. You saw it at UFC 203. He was in control of that fight against Miocic and then, in a matter of milliseconds, he wasnt. A lot of that had to with durability. Miocic got dropped by a clean left hand, but he recovered quickly. Overeem, on the other hand, took a couple combinations and never looked the same. It seemed that he needed the bell to save him as soon as he took his first shot. That doesnt bode well in the heavyweight division, but at the same time, theres no denying Overeems skill. A bounce-back of two or three wins in a row is very feasible. Ill actually say yes here, but its not a very confident answer.4.?Who should be the next heavyweight title challenger: Fabricio Werdum or Cain Velasquez?Johnson:?Its Cain Velasquez, in my opinion. Werdum suffered a knockout to Stipe [in May at UFC 198] and I dont think Werdums performance against Travis Browne was good enough to make him the No. 1 contender. I think Stipe vs. Cain is a great matchup. I think Cain will press him Stipe and try to take him down, while throwing heavy hands. The way Stipe moves around, it seems hes really finding his niche -- his game -- right now. I would definitely go with Stipe in that matchup. I think his movement and punching ability would favor him.Okamoto:?I agree its Velasquez. Werdum is ranked higher, so if he is jumped by Velasquez, Werdum will have a legitimate gripe. But even so, doesnt it still strangely feel like Velasquez is the man to beat in this division? Dont get me wrong, Miocic is the champ and the undisputed No. 1 heavyweight, but theres still that feeling of, Well, if Cain could only stay healthy. Hes healthy now and coming off a very Cain-like performance at UFC 200. The time to book that fight is now. If we know anything about Velasquez, its that he might not be healthy for long. Book that fight while the opportunity exists.5.?What is the best sleeper fight at Saturdays UFC Fight Night card in Hidalgo, Texas?Johnson:?Im gonna say featherweights?Chas Skelly [15-2] and Maximo Blanco [12-7-1]. Chas has been down here at Blackzilians in Boca Raton, Florida, training with us. Ive seen how dedicated he is. Hes really tough, and I dont think many people are watching this card to see this fight. Its a sleeper.Okamoto:?You could probably call the main event a sleeper if you wanted, as this entire event is flying under the radar. I actually like Johnsons pick a lot. Skelly will likely look to use his wrestling against Blanco, who I think will be able to stuff plenty of those attempts and look to make Skelly pay for it. It looks like a potentially high-action fight. Ill also mention lightweights?Islam Makhachev?and?Chris Wade. Makhachev is a 24-year-old prospect with a lot of promise, but hes coming off a very ugly loss in his last fight, plus a situation with the United States Anti-Doping Agency in which he was pulled from an event in April but later cleared of any wrongdoing. Ive heard plenty of positive reviews about Makhachevs potential, and he has a legitimate test in front of him in Wade. Wholesale Jerseys ' ' '

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