Game Day Preview: Panthers At Senators. Three In A Row?

Fans in Canada's capital will have to wait another year for Big Z. Photo Source: Jean Levac, The Ottawa Citizen via montrealgazette.com

 Florida Panthers  5-3-0 (10 PTS)   at   Ottawa Senators 4-5-0 (8 PTS)

Opposition Site: SenShot

Raise your hand if you thought the Florida Panthers and Ottawa Senators would’ve combined for 18 points in their first 17 games played. Ok, now put your hands down because you’re probably not being truthful. But in the early going, both teams, who were predicted by many to finish 14,15 in the Eastern Conference, have shown a little bit more jump to their game. Ottawa comes in winners in their last three while the Panthers come into this game hoping to extend their win streak to the same number.

The Senators are holding tough despite very shaky defense and goaltending early on. Former Panther Craig Anderson has settled down after a brutal start. How brutal? Compare his 3-0 record with 1.96 GAA and .934 save % in his last three games versus his overall numbers of 4-2, 3.74 GAA and .883 save %. Andy finding his game is great news for the Sens as they’ve invested $3 mil per year over the next four on their goalie. Equally as hot over their last three games is center Jason Spezza, who has seven points and Milan Michalek, who has five. If Ottawa is to remain out of the basement in the conference, both of those guys are going to have to remain hot all season long. 2011 first-round draftee Mika Zabinajed won’t be around to help carry some of the burden, as the team announced yesterday that they are sending him back to the Swedish Elite League for the year. After a promising preseason, Big Z had mustered only one point in his nine game tryout. But make no mistake, he is going to be a big part of any future Senators rebuild.

Key match up is going to be Ottawa‘s top rated power play, hitting at 31.2% vs the Florida PK, which has dipped to which has fallen to 75%, 26th in the league. Staying out of the box is going to be paramount for the Cats in this game.

On the other side of the ice, Panthers rookie Erik Gudbranson was informed today he won’t be going anywhere. Around noon today, Gudbranson learned he will play with the team past tonight’s game and be with them the rest of the season. It’s made an even more happy day for him and his family as his father Wayne was around to hear the news in person. Reports are the senior Gudbranson was moved to tears upon hearing the news. It’s good news for young player who can take that stress off of his shoulders and simply focus on playing hockey and it’s certainly good for the fans who get to watch a key piece of the future now instead of next season. And it’s a move that makes sense, as Erik is simply way too physically advanced to go back to juniors. It would be like playing NHL ’12 against the computer on easy difficulty level with the offsides turned off, a blatant mismatch.

While the Senators will have a hot goaltender in their nets tonight, the Panthers counter with a guy of their own in Jacob Markstrom. ‘The Alien’ as he is being dubbed by his teammates on twitter, has played like he’s from another planet thus far. He currently boasts a 2-1 record with a 1.29 GAA and a mind-boggling .967 save %, including a monster 40 save effort in a 2-1 win over the Montreal Canadiens on Monday night. While head coach Kevin Dineen is standing firm in saying that Jose Theodore, who has also played well, if Markstrom is going to play anywhere near to the level he has been, the plan for him to head to San Antonio to play in the AHL might have to be revised. It’s a good problem to have, but one that will need to be addressed very soon with the return on Scott Clemmensen on the horizon.

You can check out TSN’s Gameday right here.

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Topics: Craig Anderson, Erik Gudbranson, Florida Panthers, Jacob Markstrom, Jason Spezza, Jose Theodore, Kevin Dineen, Mika Zibanejed, Milan Michalek, Montreal Canadiens, Ottawa Senators, Scott Clemmensen, The Alien

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