Panther Game Day. New Look Is Looking Better.

Tonight the New York Islanders and Rookie of the Year Candidate Michael Grabner visit the Florida Panthers in the fourth and final game of the season series.  Now all of you that want to bitch and moan and complain about giving up on Grabner go ahead.  Yell, scream, throw a glass, kick a trash can.  Maybe even pull your hair.  Done? Good.

Bigger news for the Islanders is that goaltender Rick Di Pietro will be playing tonight.  Di Pietro the oft injured netminder hasn’t played in six weeks for New York, and will be a welcome site to the team.  Di Pietro was injured last month in a fight with Pittsburgh Penguins goaltender Brent Johnson, where he broke some facial bones.  Starting tonight against Florida may not be the best thing for Di Pietro as he is  0-7-1 here , with his last victory way back in November of 2006.  Al Montoya a former first round pick of the New York Rangers has been doing a solid job in his place with a 7-3-4 record in 15 starts. The Islanders are coming off a overtime loss last night to the Carolina Hurricanes (3-2), and have now lost six in a row on the road, and are 0-2-1 on this road trip.  A team just right for the Florida Panthers to pounce on?  We can only hope, as we have seen teams come here in those dire situations before, only to walk out on the better end of the scoresheet.

Grabner himself has continued his solid play, especially of late.  Last night he picked up his 29th goal and also assited on another, giving him seven points in his last eight games. He’s second on the team in goals behind Matt Moulson who has 30, and fourth in points with 44.  John Tavares leads the Islanders with 60 total points.

The new look Panthers as we keep saying will be playing the final game of a seven game homestand as they will hit the road next week.  I say new look, because of all the new faces for one, but also because of the way they are playing since the trade deadline.  Sure they’ve been spotty and inconsistent, but with a few of the players they’ve acquired and a couple that have been given a chance from Rochester, this is a different team.  A little more snarl and edge with Ryan Carter bringing a very gritty style, as well as a scoring chance or two. Mike Duco, who is back in Rochester, taking on some NHL heavyweights.  Guys that are 5-6 inches taller than hom, and not being afraid to do it.  As well as the skilled play of Sergei Samsonov and Niclas Bergfors.  I would have to say that overall, this team is better now than the one that started the season.

Evgeny Dadonov who has been out with a broken finger is expected to be in the lineup tonight.  That is good news for Florida as Geno was playing well and showing that he belonged here in the big time.  Jack Skille and Shawn Matthias, both with crewcuts were among four injured players at practice yesterday.  They are hoping to make a return before the season is up.

Defenceman Keaton Ellerby has also been playing with much more consistency, adding some scoring to his game.  Ellerby is a plus four and has four points in his past five games.  If he develops a slap shot, he could be the one to man the power play next season.  Something that the Panthers will have to work on improving this summer, both with coaching and players.

Also, if you haven’t heard, forward Mike Santorelli has been offered a two year contract to stay with the club.  One of the best off season moves that Florida has made in a long time is being rewarded for his solid play.

Game time is 7:00 P.M. as are all Saturday night games at the Bank Atlantic Center.  Here’s the TSN Gameday preview.

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Tags: Evgeny Dadonov Florida Pantehrs Matt Moulson'john Tavares Michael Grabner Mike Sanotelli New York Islanders Niclas Bergfors Rick Dipietro Sergei Samsonov

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