I love watching teams from the Western Conference and tonight will be no different as the Edmonton Oilers come to the Bank Atlantic Center to take on the Panthers. I guess it’s due to the fact that I grew up in Chicago and had watched so many matchups between the Hawks and other Western Conference opponents, that I just like that style of play. Less trapping, more physicality, and just something about Western Canadian teams as well.
The Oilers come into town in the middle of a season long six game road trip and are looking for their third win a row on the road. A feat that hasn’t been accomplished by them in three years. It’s been an odd trip so far for them as they opened the trip in Vancouver and gave up four goals in the first 8:25 of that game on the way to a 7-3 loss. However, they have turned things around with wins in Detroit (4-1) and Dallas (3-2). In all their record is 12-13-4, and are 4-8-2 on the road this year.
After replacing long time coach Craig McTavish, after last season, the Oilers now have veteran and former Leafs bench boss Pat Quinn and associate coach Tom Renney formerly of the Rangers, behind the bench. A solid combo, but they have been missing some important players this year. Ales Hemsky is out for the year with shoulder surgery. Mike Comrie is out until late December with mono. Nikolai Khabibulin is day to day with a wonky back. Denis Grebeshkov is out 4-6 weeks with a partially torn MCL. He’s expected back in late December as well. Fernando Pisani who had that marvelous playoff run in 2004 is out indefinetly as he suffers from ulcerative colitis.
Leading the team in scoring and finally earning his pay is big forward Dustin Penner with fifteen goals. A couple other players to watch out for are youngsters Sam Gagner and Patrick O’Sullivan as well as veteran defenceman, with an awfully hard shot from the point, Sheldon Souray who could be on the trading block. Souray may be difficult to move because of the length and amount of his contract. Look for Jeff Deslauriers to get the start between the pipes tonight for the Oilers.
As for Florida, they are coming off a really tough week of games, and heading into another tough week of games. The December schedule is a rough one where the Panthers are playing almost every other night it seems. Last week was however a week that saw the Panthers blow three leads late in the game, and that trend must be fixed. The Panthers are 1-4-3 in their last eight games with the only win coming against the Avalanche, which was a 6-5 shootout victory. A game where the Panthers had a two goal lead four different times.
Tomas Vokoun is the likely starter for the Cats as he continues to do his best to keep Florida close. TLW has been hot as of late, but more scoring is needed from the other lines, espcecailly the third, where I cannot remember the last time that Radek Dvorak scored a goal.
The power play sits at 27th and the penalty kill sits at 29th. Both stats have to improve. One thing that might help is to reconsider who kills penalties. With head coach Peter DeBoer relying so much on three lines for most of the game, he should consider keeping both TLW and Lazy Ass off of those units. We need them fresh for offence. Just a thought.
I hope that the Panthers have learned a few things over the last week or so, and start out tonight with a bit of an edge and come out playing desperate hockey. Right now that is the only way they are going to turn this around. They are not far off from a playoff spot, but cannot afford to give up leads, and points to other teams. Especially one’s in their own conference. Tonight’s game is a must win not only for the points, but for gaining confidence for the rest of the week.
Thanks for reading.