Hope that you all enjoyed the Christmas break and are anxious to get back into some hockey. The Florida Panthers who have won six of their last nine games now begin a string of 11 of the next 13 games on home ice, where they are 7-6 so far this year. They currently sit in 11th place in the Eastern Conference, and are eight points behind the eighth place team the Boston Bruins who they play tonight here in Sunrise.
To say things are looking positive lately would probably be an understatement, as the team is returning from a successful road trip beating Philadelphia 5-0, and Buffalo 4-3 in dramatic fashion after leading 3-0. Those victories were sandwhiched between a loss to the Pittsburgh Penguins by a score of 5-2. In seasons past that Penguin loss could have sent them reeling, however this year it’s not the case.
One of the reasons for their recent success is the play of youngster Evgeny Dadonov, who has eight points in eight games and has 6 in his last 4 games. Dave Lasseter one of the three members of the Rat Pack here on our site did a nice piece on Dadonov earlier today. In addition to Dadonov, Michael Frolik, Chris Higgins, and yes even Stephen Weiss are beginning to find their stroke. If anything positive this season is going to happen these players must contribute in the ways they have been of late. If we can only get David Booth moving in the right direction. Booth has no points in his last three games, has only eight goals on the year so far, and has only one goal in his last seven games. He’s getting some chances, but he’s obviously holding the stick a bit tight this year. He has 127 shots on goal, but most of those shots are from long distance, and not from the dirty areas. A place he needs to be.
The power play is still suffering as the league’s worst at a 9.6% clip, and the Bruins penalty kill is among the top at 86.8%. Florida has lost both games against Boston this year and has lost nine of the last 14 to the Bruins. Look for Tomas Vokoun to be in net tonight as he’s coming off a 45 save performance in Buffalo, and is 3-1-0 in his last four games with a .939 save percentage.
The Bruins are beginning a five game road trip and are coming off a 4-1 victory over the Atlanta Thrashers last Thursday. Enforcer Shawn Thornton scored twice in that game bringing his goal total to seven so far this year. It’s also homecoming number two for former Panthers Nathan Horton and Gregory Campbell. Horton is scoreless kin his last five games, but has 11 goals so far this year. Campbell has eight points on the year so far. Mark Recchi the ageless wonder is always dangerous against the Panthers it seems. The last time these teams met, Recchi led the Bruins comeback scoring two goals in the third period as Boston beat Florida 3-1. Milan Lucic who leads the Bruins in goals with 16 and points with 27, had a hat trick in the first match up of the year.
Boston is usually never about scoring and this year isn’t much different as goaltender Tim Thomas has stolen the limelight from almost everyone in the NHL this season with what looks to be quite the bounceback year. In 24 games this season Thomas is 16-4-3 with a 1.67 GAA a .949 save percentage and five shutouts. Clearly a stellar performance.
Competition for playing time is going to pick up for the Panthers as injured players Radek Dvorak, Cory Stillman and Rusty Olesz all participated in practice Monday. While they won’t be on the ice, the Panthers next game after tonight is the New Year’s Eve contest against Montreal. One or all of these three could be back in the lineup.
Healthy bodies fighting for ice time. Could be the perfect way to start this stretch of games.
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