FLORIDA PANTHERS: 16-8-4 (36 PTS.) vs. BUFFALO SABRES: 14-11-2 (30 PTS.)
GAME TIME: 7:30 P.M. EASTERN
OPPOSITION SITE: SABRE NOISE
Back to back games are never all that fun, but after Thursday night’s bonanza in beantown, the Florida Panthers head into Buffalo brimming with confidence. Defeating the defending Stanley Cup Champs 2-0, with both goals scored in the final minutes of the third period, saw the Panthers win a hard fought battle against the surprised(?) Boston Bruins. While the Panthers may have played a game that was slightly different from the format theyve been using, it worked. Coach Kevin Dineen said it best after the game, “we’re just taking care of business”. A seven point lead over the Washington Capitals has created breathing room, but the Panthers know that there can be no let up.
Credit for the culture change must be given to general manager Dale Tallon for acquiring the players, to Kevin Dineen for finding the right mixture, and the players for passing up to this point, the chemistry test. Last night’s goals came from two ex-Chicago Blackhawks (Tomas Kopecky and Kris Versteeg) who Dale acquired over the summer. Their experience in situations like last night has proved to spread throughout the dressing room in a positive way. Tonight against the Buffalo Sabres the Panthers will attempt to win their fourth game in a row, a feat that hasn’t been accomplished since March of 2008 when they won seven in a row. With scoring now starting to come from other places, the FlashMob Line is no longer the only trio to focus on. The addition of Mikael Samuelsson to the lineup also adds experience, and goal scoring ability.
Jose Theodore has continued to make people forget about Tomas Vokoun as he had another outstanding performance. Many fans who might have questioned Theo’s ability are beginning to jump on board with him as he continues to stand on his head night after night. As one of his biggest supporters, it’s nice to get a text or two from people saying how great he has been. His performance last night, which was helped by the goal post on more than one occasion was clutch. Theo had this to say after the game:
“It was just one of these games I was seeing the puck well, and I knew right away that it was going to be tough for them to score goals,” said Theodore, who faced the Bruins in the playoffs in 2002 and ’04 and beat them both times. “When I feel like I’m on top of my game, I’m tough to beat. And tonight we just played well, stuck with the game plan, didn’t panic and got away with a win.”
Tonight’s game won’t be easy against the Sabres who are struggling unexpectedly. A slew of injuries that has seen eight Sabre players miss six games or more, including goaltender Ryan Miller. Because of that, they’ve been a model of inconsistency as their 2-4-2 record shows in their past eight games. On the shelf for Buffalo are players like Tyler Myers, Jordan Leopold and Paul Gaustad to name a few. They blew a three goal lead against the Flyers on Wednesday, ultimately losing 5-4 in overtime. They’ve also lost six of their last seven games at home, while giving up at least four goals in five of those games. The Sabres a team known for defence rather than an offensive powerhouse is searching for the answer to their troubles.
This will be the third game between the two clubs with Ryan Miller appearing in both games, getting a 3-0 shutout in the first meeting on October 20th. Nine days later Miller made 33 saves as the Sabres lost 3-2. He’s missed some time with a concussion after being run into by Boston Bruin forward Milan Lucic who was not suspended on the play. In his absence Jhonas Enroth has tried to hold down the fort.
Be wary of forward Tomas Vanek who leads the Sabres with 13 goals, and is a Panther killer. He’s scored three times in the two meetings this season, and has nine goals in the past 12 home games against Florida.
* Buffalo leads the series all time with a 41-25-4 record.
* With all the injuries to Buffalo, nine rookies have appeared in their lineup this season.
*Since Lindy Ruff, a former Panther assistant coach was named as the Sabres coach in 1997, there have been 167 coaching changes in the NHL.
* Mike Weaver is set to play in his 450th NHL game.
* Mike Santorelli is one point away from 50 in his career.
* Jordan Leopold played with the Panthers during the 2009-10 season, appearing in 61 games and tallying 18 points (7+11).
* Buffalo Assistant Coach Kevyn Adams played in Florida during the 2000-01 and 2001-02 seasons. He played in 56 games and notched 21 points (7+14) as a Panther.
* Selected by the Sabres in the sixth round of the 1997 NHL Entry Draft, Brian Campbell played in Buffalo for parts of eight seasons (1999-00 –2007-08). As a Sabre, Campbell tallied 176 points (32+144) in 391 games and was selected as an NHL All-Star twice (2007 & 2008).
* Buffalo native Tim Kennedy played for the Sabres for parts of two seasons, appearing in 79 games and recording 26 points (10+16) in 2008-09 and 2009-10.
* Craig Ramsay began his coaching career with Buffalo when he served as an assistant coach during the 1986-87 season and took over as interim head coach later in the year. Ramsay also played for the Sabres for 14 seasons and is second in franchise history with 1,070 games played for the club. He appeared in 776 consecutive games from 1973-1983, which ranks as the fourth longest consecutive games streak in NHL history.
* Kevin Dineen was the head coach of the Portland Pirates for the three seasons the Sabres were affiliated with the Pirates. Dineen helped develop three straight AHL rookies of the year in Nathan Gerbe (2009), Tyler Ennis (2010) and Luke Adam (2011).
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