FLORIDA PANTHERS: 13-7-4 (30 PTS.) vs. LOS ANGELES KINGS: 12-8-4 (28 PTS.)
GAME TIME: 10:30 P.M. Eastern (Load up on the coffee)
OPPOSITION SITE: RINK ROYALTY
The Florida Panthers are coming off the second best November in team history (7-3-3) which was capped off with a gutsy effort on Tuesday night against the Carolina Hurricanes, soiling the debut of new head coach Kirk Muller. The 3-1 victory came with some cuts and bruises however as defencemen Dmitry Kulikov has a deep laceration which will keep him out for some time, and Kris Versteeg is smarting from the senseless elbow to the head by Carolina defenceman Derek Joslin. Despite these two scenarios, the Florida Panthers persevered their way to victory, which is something Panther fans aren’t used to, but are quite pleased with.
Among the gutsy performers on Tuesday Jose Theodore again proved clutch in goal, making 26 saves for his 10th victory of the season in 18 starts. Jose’s GAA is 2.29 and his save percentage is .924, proving that he certainly can see. (Did you catch that?). Not bad at all for those of you who thought he was finished. Tomas Fleischmann continues to impress as he scored again in the Hurricanes game and now has 17 points in his last 14 games. Shawn Matthias has also played extremely well recently, and had two goals on Tuesday, one of which was an empty netter, but the kid’s hard work is paying off. No thanks to linemate Tomas Kopecky who assisted on the first Matthias goal, TomKop’s work along the boards this season has been excellent. Another faction of the Panthers game that’s been missing in previous years.
The test of resiliency continues tonight where Los Angeles hasn’t been one of the best places or opponents for the Panthers to play in recent times. The Cats have lost the last six meetings between the two teams and are facing a Kings team that is stingy on defence, allowing only 55 goals so far. Los Angeles has outscored the Panthers 22-10 since the last time Florida won. The loss of Kulikov means that both Erik Gudbranson and Keaton Ellerby will be in the lineup for the foreseable future until Kulikov is able to return. Pressure to perform yes. However knowing that they will be playing regular shifts during Kulikov’s absence could also settle the youngsters down. We will probably see exactly what these two are made of.
The Kings currently are eighth in the always tough Western conference and have plans on making the playoffs again this season. With off season changes that included the addition of Mike Richards, Simon Gagne, Willie Mitchell and Ethan Moreau, the Kings felt that the leadership and grit these players provide could help them make a stronger run in the post season. Richards is second in scoring with 11 goals and 9 assists behind Anze Kopitar who has 10 goals and 14 assists. Richards is on a hot streak where he’s scored 9 times in the past 10 games and Ethan Moreau scored for the first time in 58 games in Monday night’s game against San Jose, which was a 2-0 victory.
Goaltender Jonathan Quick is off to another fine start with 10 wins on the season so far. Last season in 61 contests the 25 year old netminder won 35 games. The PK unit for the Kings has killed off 16 opportunties in a row, and Quick credits that to their some of this season’s success:
“… (The penalty kill is) something that we’ve been great at the past couple of years and it’s something we’ve been really putting a big focus on these past few games,” Jonathan Quick(notes) said Monday after making 33 saves for his fourth shutout
This streak doesn’t bode well for the Panthers as their power play was 0 for 10 prior to finally connecting once Tuesday in two chances. Dustin Penner who had missed 8 games with a hand injury returns tonight, has no goals in 14 games this season. The Kings will need production from the big winger if they expect to advance in the post season.
This will be a tough contest for Florida, as the West coast always presents problems of one form or another. The key will be if the Panthers can match up with the physical play of the Kings. The game on Tuesday night saw that the Panthers can be a tough team, but will have to prove it tonight. These two teams will faceoff against each other twice this year as the Kings visit Florida on February 9th.
* Shawn Matthias has scored 3 of the Panthers previous goals.
* Matt Bradley, Marcel Goc and Scottie Upshall remain out with injuries. Mikael Samuelsson could be close to returning to action.
* Ed Jovanovski has more points (39) against the Kings than any other team he’s played against. 7 goals and 32 assists.
* Los Angeles leads the series 11-8-3 overall.
* The Kings are 11-2-2 when Mike Richards gets a point.
* The Kings are 9-2-3 when scoring first.
* The Kings have 336 hits in their last 13 games. (25.8 avg.)
* Defenceman Drew Doughty is two assists away from 100.
* Kings coach Terry Murray recently coached his 1,000th game, and is two wins behind Toe Blake for 500.
* Panther defenceman Mike Weaver played parts of two seasons with the Kings, totaling 18 points.
* Terry Murray coached 200 games for the Panthers, and was the last coach to be behind the bench when Florida appeared in the playoffs. He was fired the following season after 36 games. Do you remember who his replacement was?
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