PHOENIX COYOTES: 16-13-3 (35 PTS.) vs. FLORIDA PANTHERS: 18-9-6 (42 PTS.)
GAME TIME: 7:30 P.M.
OPPOSITION SITE: HOWLIN’ HOCKEY
The Florida Panthers play the last game of a four game homestand tonight and look to improve on some interesting numbers. They have only two regulation losses at home this season, and are 6-0-2 in their last eight games at the Bank Atlantic Center. A win tonight would be their third straight at home, which would be the perfect send off to their upcoming road trip to Ottawa and Boston. The nervewracking part of all this is that the last 12 home games have all been decided by one goal, which has produced some thrilling endings. If you’re a fan and you’ve been to a home game recently you can’t say you haven’t been brought to the edge of your seat.
Not to make excuses but the injury bug is starting to manifest it’s way into the season. Jack Skille separated his shoulder on Friday night against the Flames, and red hot Sean Bergenheim sustained a groin injury in the Carolina game on Sunday. Skille who was providing energy and hard forechecking will be lost for about a month, while Bergenheim who had three goals in his previous two games will be a day to day situation. Tim Kennedy has been recalled from San Antonio and Bill Thomas was signed to a contract yesterday and is expected to be in the lineup tonight.
Hopefully the Panthers can come out of the gate with a little more jump than they displayed on Sunday, although maybe the 5:00 P.M. start through them off as they really didn’t find their legs until the third period, by which time it was closer to their normal game time of 7:30. Kris Versteeg was the offensive hero in Sunday’s overtime win as he took a pass from Shawn Matthias that went through traffic and wristed home a one time past a half open net for the thrilling victory. Versteeg had one of his best games of the season, flying all over the ice drawing penalties, forcing chances, and showing off his skills. Obviously the best pickup of the season by the Panthers. Hopefully Steeger has found a home here in South Florida.
Not far behind him though has been the stellar play of Jose Theodore who has continued to make the critics swallow their tongues. His 13-6-4 record on the season puts him on pace for 32 victories. His slamming the door shut, along with solid play from a revamped defence that includes the smooth skating Brian Campbell and the newly found slap shot of Jason Garrison has made this one of the most well rounded Panther teams ever. It would also be a mistake to not mention the effect that head coach Kevin Dineen and his staff of Gord Murphy and Craig Ramsey have had on this team. Never giving up, finding ways to win, and playing an unfrazzled style, with a touch of in your face hockey, has made this hard working bunch fun to watch.
Tonight’s contest against the Phoenix Coyotes will not be an easy one, as the desert dogs are also a talented and hard working bunch. Although they are struggling right now in the month of December with a 3-6-0 record, coach Dave Tippett feels that mistakes, leading to goals and giving up leads has been their problem. In those six losses the Coyotes have been outscored 21-8, and at times appear to be lethargic in their play. Also, they have allowed 15 goals this season in the last two minutes of periods, which may be a clear indication of losing concentration. The grind of an NHL season combined with the holidays affects different players in different ways, but if they expect to make the playoffs in the tough Western Conference, they’ll need to get out of their funk.
Radim Vrbata leads the team in goals with 15 and Ex-Panther Ray Whitney (The Wizard) leads in points with 28, as the Coyotes a team that is built much like the Panthers, spread their offence around. Shane Doan the long time captain of the Coyotes and Lauri Korpikowski make up the other scoring threats, but all four lines that Tippett rolls out are capable of putting the puck in the net.
Goaltender Mike Smith has seemed to revive his career and the “dry heat” of Phoenix may be agreeing with him. His 14-10–3 record is impressive for a guy that was struggling to hang on to a backup position just a couple seasons ago. These two teams have features so similar you could almost swap the uniforms and not really know the difference. The last time these teams played each other on December 4th 2010, the Panthers were victorious in a 2-1 shootout. A win gives the Panthers seven out of eight possible points on this homestand. HO HO HO!
* The Florida Panthers have now lost 112 man games to injury.
* Phoenix leads the series 11-7-3-2. This will be the only meeting this year between the two clubs.
* Ray Whitney has played 41 games against the Panthers and has 33 points (11-22-33).
* Ed Jovanovski played five seasons with Phoenix scoring 164 points (47-117-164) and reached the playoffs in 2010 and 2011.
* Scottie Upshall played 128 games for the Coyotes scoring 42 goals.
* Ray Whitney played in 273 games for the Panthers with 97 goals and 130 assitsts.
* Director of Player Development/Goaltender coach Sean Burke was 23-29-14 in during his couple seasons as a Panther.
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