Florida Panthers: 5-4-0 (10 pts.) vs. Buffalo Sabres: 6-3-0 (12pts.)
Opposition Site: Sabre Noise
Thursday night’s frustrating loss to the Ottawa Senators was a back breaker as Sens captain Daniel Alfredsson scored the game winning goal with 3 seconds left in regulation when the Florida Panthers were unable to clear the puck out of their zone. A problem that has raised it’s ugly head in two of the four losses the Panthers have on the season. As reported by George Richards of the Miami Herald, yesterday’s practice focused on getting back to the basics and reiterating some of the things that were worked on in training camp. With the addition of two new players (Marco Sturm and Mikael Samuelsson), it was probably a very good idea.
We’ve noticed a couple things about this talented Panther club that seem to be like night and day. When they get fancy or as it was put a few games ago “cute”, they get away from their game plan. When they play with a bit more grit and hang onto the puck longer, they are successful. While we know that this team features a level of talent we haven’t seen here in quite some time, this team needs to play a “dirtier” style of game. Not necessarily grinding things out for an entire 60 minutes, but forget all the “cute” moves and the little touch passes. Drive to the net, forget the drop passes and trying to split the defence. If they can execute their game plan, and play as a team instead of the spurts of individualism, they’ll win more than they’ll lose. The items that you’ve seen me write about however are still lacking. We need more physical play all around from everyone. There aren’t enough hits and the forechecking needs to be a bit more punishing. Also, the crease must be cleared. Give your goaltenders a chance to see the puck so they can make the saves.
On the plus side the top line of Stephen Weiss, Flash and Kris Versteeg has been phenomenal. Versteeg has 5g-6a for 11 points and is on pace for 99. While that may be a stretch, he appears to be our top gun right now. Weiss and Flash have also contributed as well, but they both have had chances that they’ve missed out on, and need to bear down just a touch more. Meanwhile, we need our other lines to produce and get some secondary scoring. One goal from Scottie Upshall, Tomas Kopecky, and none from a hardworking Jack Skille can’t continue, and I honestly look for at least two of those three to bust open very soon. These guys bring great energy, but they need to finish and take advantage of their scoring chances.
Jacob Markstrom has played extremely well so far and is going to give the Panthers organization something to think about when Scott Clemmensen is recovered from his knee injury. While the fan base says one thing, the management will have to make a tough decision that will be unpopular with someone.
Speaking of goaltending, Buffalo’s Ryan Miller hasn’t won a game since his last start against the Panthers a week ago. In two games since his Florida victory, Miller has given up 6 goals on 48 shots, and was given a night off on Thursday when backup Jhonas Enroth stopped 41 shots in a 4-2 win over the Columbus Blue Jackets. Miller is confirmed to be in goal tonight according to dailyfaceoff.com and is 11-4-0 in his last 15 starts against the Panthers, as is Jose Theodore for the Panthers.
In the Columbus game Buffalo seemed to get their powerplay back on track connecting on two of three attempts after going 1 for its last 17. Brad Boyes had this to say about their struggles:
“We went out early yesterday with the coaching staff and talked about it and figured stuff out,” said Boyes, who has recorded a goal and an assist in each of the last two games. “All five guys on the power play have to be cohesive, and we did that.”
Keep your eyes on Tomas Vanek who had three assists on Thursday and had a pair of goals against Florida in the last meeting. Vanek leads the Sabres in scoring with 14 points, including 7 goals. Boyes who I had mentioned earlier has 4 points in his last two games, and should he find the scoring touch that he had for a couple years while in St. Louis, the Sabres will become a serious contender for the Eastern Conference championship.
The Panthers are learning lessons and we know these points we aren’t getting in October can’t be made up in March or April, however the core of the team is different and the attitude of the team is no longer the same.
* Kevin Dineen celebrated his birthday on Friday.
* This is the 70th meeting all time between the two teams with Buffalo leading 41-24-4.
* Buffalo has killed 29 of 31 power play chances against them. Ranking them second in the NHL at 93.6%.
* Since Lindy Ruff took over as coach for the Sabres in 1997 there have been 163 coaching changes in the NHL.
* Tomas Kopecky is two points away from 100 and Dmitry Kulikov is two points away from 50.
* Marco Sturm is two games away from playing 900 games in the NHL and will be the first German born player to do so.
* Jason Garrison has 3 goals in 9 games so far. Last year he had 5 goals in 73 games.
* Check out Sabre Noise for their live chat for tonights game!
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