Two teams that are like Jekyl and Hyde match up tonight at “The Garden”, as the Florida Panthers who are 5-1-1 in their last seven games take on the New York Rangers who have won three consecutive games after losing their previous three.
The Panthers fresh off of their truclulent victory over the Philadelphia Flyers come into this game with an offensive resurgence that this franchise hasn’t seen since the Pavel Bure days. Of the last 25 goals that the Panthers have scored 14 have come from the new top line of Stephen Weiss, Nathan Horton and Michael Frolik. During this recent seven game stretch the Cats have scored 29 goals, which if you do the math averages out to slightly more than four per game. A clear indication that things are going their way. For now.
While I am not going to frown on their recent play, which is fantastic so see, I am expecting this play to continue, and looking forward to the schedule of games ahead that feature some tougher opponents. It’s great to be in the playoff hunt especially with teams like the Flyers, Hurricanes and Canadiens sputtering away. Beat the big boys like Washington, New Jersey (again), Pittsburgh, Buffalo and Boston, and then we can declare ourselves for real.
Tomas Vokoun will get the start tonight and he has won his last four starts. While his record is only 11-10-7, he has kept the Panthers afloat in almost every game he has played, and to this point the team should be greatful for his play. His save percentage is .924 which is good enough for 5th in the league. That may or may not tell alot about a goalies play, but as we all know, the Panthers are known for giving up alot of shots as well as scoring chances. So for him those stats are meaningful.
Stevie Wonder (no pun intended) has been playing the best hockey ever. He has been in the right place at the right time and is finally producing at a clip that was expected of him when he was drafted. (eight years ago) Will he keep it up, and is he strong enough to do so? That remains to be seen. Same with Nathan Horton who has 13 goals and 24 assists as both he and Weiss are tied for the team lead in points with 37. It’s about time these two are putting points on the board.
As I type the above I have to mention that Steve Goldstein and Bill Lindsey, the Panthers TV announcers need to stop with the Olympic campaining for Weiss and Horton. I realize that it’s their job to promote our players and to tell everyone how good they are, but in this writer’s opinion it’s not appropriate. Not because I give these two players crap and have a hard time finding a way to praise them, although I’m getting better. It’s the fact that this is a momentary blip in their play. There are other players that have been more consistent, for longer periods of time, that I feel are still better and deserving of representing their country. No offence to either Weiss or Horton, as I have enjoyed their play, but let’s focus on getting the Panthers more wins and in a playoff spot.
As for the Rangers, they are led by Marion Gaborik who has some gaudy numbers at this point. 25 goals for tops in the NHL, twelve of which have come on the power play, and he’s second in points with 47. He’s been exactly what the Rangers expected and has been relatively healthy. (jinx?) The Rangers have dropped five in a row at home and they are looking to end that tonight. That is the longest losing streak for them at The Garden since a seven game stretch in March-April of 1993.
Coach John Tortorella sent a message recently by benching defenceman Wade Redden, and Ales Kotalik. While both players were upset, with Redden being the most vocal, they have come back and are expected to play better. One thing I like about Torts, besides his press conferences, is that he does hold his players accountable, and if you’re not playing up to par, he let’s you know it.
Christopher Higgins a former Montreal Canadian is having a very tough season. Higgins has only 10 points in 35 games, with only four goals. Too bad, as he was expected to be better especially with the change of scenery which obviously hasn’t helped. He has no points in his last six games and is a -8. Keep your eyes on Ryan Callahan who has five points in his last three games after a slow start he’s coming on a bit and is a player that can provide some energy for the Rangers.
No roster changes for the Panthers as I type this. The Rangers are filled with agitators and a couple fighters, so the Panthers will hope to continue their testosterone level from Monday night. While I’m not promoting a fight, I would love to see Mike Duco dish it out to Sean Avery. Duco and Avery are about the same size and I cannot stand Avery, who very often is all talk and backs away from certain battles. (chicken).
This will also end a 13 game stretch in 22 days for the Cats, a ridiculous string that they have been on.
This game should be a good one as both teams are hoping to get to the Christmas break with a win.
Twelve games on tap tonight before the break. The Chicago Blackhawks and the Detoilet Red Wings are the best looking game on the schedule.
Thanks for reading.