The Famous Pose of Hitch. Source: BluesNHL.com Getty Images

Game Day Preview With A Hitch: Panthers vs. Blues.

FLORIDA PANTHERS 9-5-3 (21 PTS) vs. ST. LOUIS BLUES 9-7-1 (19 PTS)

GAME TIME: 8:00 P.M. EST.

TSN GAMEDAY PREVIEW

OPPOSITION SITE: BLEEDIN’ BLUE (WRITERS WANTED)

Two teams that are streaking will faceoff against each other tonight as the Florida Panthers look for their fifth consecutive win on the road, take on the St. Louis Blues who are trying to extend their home point streak to eight.  The Blues who are 3-0-1 since firing head coach Davis Payne, and replacing him with Ken Hitchcok, have certainly responded to the  Hitch switch.  Known for a very defensive and disciplined approach to the game, and what has historically been known as “Hitch Hockey”, the Blues are actually playing a more up-tempo style and creating more scoring opportunities since picking up the pace.

The coaching change which caught many by surprise this early in the season, put the Blues on notice that with the talent they have much more was expected of them.  As I mentioned above, Hitch is known for his attention to defence, but has realized that the game has changed, and is allowing the Blues to utilize their speed creating more shots on goal.  One area that has improved already is the power play.  Under Payne the Blues were only able to convert 3 of 40 opportunities.  Since Hitch has arrived, they are 3 for 14.  Among active coaches Hitchcock ranks fifth overall with 536 victories.  His winning percentage is third at .589%.

The leader for the Blues in goal is Alexander Steen son of former Winnipeg Jet Thomas, with seven.  Youngster Kevin Shattenkirk a former top pick of the Colorado Avalanche leads in points with 12.  The young defenceman seems to be responding well to Hitch’s style and had this to say to the team’s official website recently:

“Hitch is allowing us to make those plays and be patient with the puck on the walls and try to create offense,” Shattenkirk told the Blues’ official website prior to Tuesday’s victory. “If we have nothing, throw it at the net, but if we have some time, be patient and try to make a play.”

Under Payne the Blues played a rough style of hockey and with the personnel that they have, I don’t expect that to change now under Hitch.  T.J. Oshie is one tough customer and can score too.  David Backes and Patrik Berglund are two players that the Blues expect alot from offensively along with Chris Stewart ,who will not play tonight as he begins to serve a three game suspension for this.  Veteran guidance comes from Jason Arnott, and Jamie Langenbrunner on offence, and Barrett Jackman. The goaltending situation will have to settle down if St Louis is going to do any damage and make the playoffs.  Brian Elliott is 7-1-0 and Jaroslav Halak is 2-6-1.  Those numbers just don’t seem right.  Halak has been named the starter tonight, and is attempting to take control of the number one job.  Halak’s career record against the Panthers is 6-1-0 with a 1.98 GAA and a .936 SAA.

The Florida Panthers are coming off their most lopsided victory so far this season beating Dallas 6-0, since December 2009 when they beat the New York Islanders 7-1.  The Panthers who are looking for their fifth win in a row away from sunny Florida have outscored their opponents 19-5 in their last four road games.  The Panthers have also set a record of scoring five goals or more in three consecutive road wins.  If the Panthers can pull off another road win tonight, it will match a stretch that they had in 2008.

The success of our boys is coming from a few areas, but none more obvious than the defence.  Brian Campbell is among the league leaders with 16 assists and appears to be the perfect match for Jason “Boom Boom” Garrison, who finds himself leading all defenceman with seven goals.  All coming from his booming slapshot. In case you haven’t seen it, here’s a great article in Garrison by the Puck Daddy himself.   Dmitry Kulikov picked up his first goal Tuesday night against Dallas, but he also has 12 assists on the year.  As a unit the Panthers defencemen have combined for 52 points.

The win in Dallas saw the Panthers not only dominate offensively, but allowed the players to relax a bit and show off their skills.  The tic -tac-toe goal that went from Flash to Kris Versteeg to Stephen Weiss, was a thing of (Ver)beauty, as that line continues to play as though they’ve been together for years.  Chemistry problem?  As far as I’m concerned, that’s no longer an issue.  The line has combined for 11 goals and 26 points in their last eight games.  Additional production is coming from Tomas Kopecky who quietly has 10 assists to go with three goals, and recent call up Evgenii Dadonov has two goals in two games.  On two shots.  Dadonov is doing his best to make sure he’s not sent back to San Antonio again, and if this play continues, he could be here for a long time.  Part of the change could be that Dadonov now spells his name Evgenii.

Everything was clicking well in the Dallas victory, and it was also nice to see Erik Gudbranson get some “real” ice time as he was out there for over 17 minutes.  The more he plays, the more comfortable he gets.  Although Big G will be scratched tonight, the one thing you can say about our defence is that we have options, and depth.  Haven’t known what that has felt like since the late ’90’s.  Scott Clemmensen was stellar in his first appearance of the year as he turned away 25 shots for his first win and shutout of the year.  This will be a physical game tonight, as all of Ken Hitchcock’s teams are tough to play against.  So the Panthers better leave the fancy at the hotel, and bring the lunch buckets  for this one.

Jack Skille is expected to play tonight, but Matt Bradley will be out and is expected to miss a week with an upper body injury.

Nerdy Stats:

* The Blues have lost 60 man games to injury so far this season with injuries to David Perron, B.J. Crombeen, Andy McDonald, and Kent Huskins.

* The Blues 6-3-1 in their last 10 games at home against the Panthers.

* T.J. Oshie will play in his 200th NHL game tonight.

* The Blues have not allowed a 2nd or 3rd period goal in their last 4 games.

* The Blues have sold out 49 consecutive home games dating back to last season.

* Stephen Weiss is two points away from 350 points in his career.

* The top line of Weiss, Flash and Versteeg has combined for 52 points (22-g, 32-a).  This line needs a nickname. The Justice League?  Little Steven and the Disciples of Soul?  Thoughts-suggestions.  Like one of these?

* The Panthers are 8-0-0 when limiting the opposition to two goals or less.

* Dmitry Kulikov has 11 points in his last 11 games.

Connections:

Mike Weaver played 135 games for the Blues before signing as a free agent with the Panthers prior to the 2010-2011 season.  Weaver has one goal and 16 assists and was a penalty killing specialist.

* Mike Keenan coached the Blues for 163 games and compiled a 75-66-22 record from 94-95 to 96-97.  He also coached the Florida Panthers for 153 games and compiled a 45-73-23-12 record from 2001-2002 to 2003-2004.  As you may know he was terminated from both jobs.

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Tags: Brian Campbell David Backes Davis Payne Flash Florida Panthers Jason Boom Boom Garrison Ken Hitchcock Kevin Shattenkirk Kris Versteeg St Louis Blues Stphen Weiss Tj Oshie

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