FLORIDA PANTHERS: 18-10-6 (40 PTS.) vs. OTTAWA SENATORS: 16-14-4 (36 PTS.)
GAME TIME: 7:30 P.M.
OPPOSITION SITE: SEN SHOT
What might have looked like just a regular Eastern Conference battle just a few weeks ago, tonight’s match against the Ottawa Senators carries significant implications for the Florida Panthers. Florida on a quick two game road trip, playing Boston tomorrow night faces an uphill battle with six of their top forwards injured. Mikael Samuelsson and Marco Sturm are the latest casualties that will be out of the lineup for the Panthers. A team that just recently had one exceptional line, and three well balanced lines, now has that top line and three lines that have AHL players mixed in at each level. Not a great way to enter a tough part of the schedule with the remaining five games in December all against conference foes.
In spite of Tuesday night’s penalty infested loss to Phoenix the Panthers still have a seven point lead over the Washington Capitals, but these injuries that are beginning to mount will test the teams resolve. Evgenii Dadonov and Michal Repik have been recalled from San Antonio, joining players like Bill Thomas who now will not only be expected to contribute, but essentially demanded to be a factor. This is one of those dig deep moments that will require the Panthers to be sharp with every pass, accurate with every shot, and smart with every play.
The Panthers may be forced to play more of a dump and chase style simply because of the deficiency in talent, and because they’ll need to keep their game simpler in an effort to limit mistakes. The Panthers are also going to have to have better starts to games. Recently they’ve developed a pattern of almost coasting for the first 30 minutes or so of games, and finally turning on the afterburners. This might work against a team like Carolina, but as we begin to face more talented teams, that strategy won’t work. It’s one thing to play behind with a full lineup in tow, but doing so with key players missing is a road we don’t want to travel. Adding to that is the fact that the FlashMob Line has one of it’s parts struggling. Tomas Fleischmann who has 30 points in 34 games, hasn’t scored a goal in eight games, and has no points in his last five.
Fortunately the defence continues to contribute offensively with Brian Campbell and Jason Garrison leading the way. Combined with the superb goaltending of Jose Theodore the goals against remain low, which is a positive. Finding the net however is the major source of concern, and Kevin Dineen remains confident that his squad can get the job done. The Cats are 10-7-1 on the road and seem to be comfortable playing away from the Bank Atlantic Center, which is another positive as the club seems to be more focused away from South Florida.
Ottawa will be shooting for it’s eighth straight win against the Panthers on home ice, as well as aiming to climb up the Eastern Conference. The Sens have 36 points and currently hold a playoff spot and remain one of the surprises in the NHL so far this season. However this is a team that has it’s own struggles and injury bugs as Milan Michalek the teams leading goal scorer with 19 is out with concussion symptoms, and is listed as day to day. Defenseman Erik Karlsson leads the team in assists with 28 and is the top scoring defenceman in the NHL with 31 points overall.
Jason Spezza is playing some of his best hockey as he leads the team in points with 37. Spezza is a dangerous player who has one of the best wrist shots in the game, will need to be watched closely. Of course there’s always Daniel Alfredsson and the emerging Nick Foligno to provide additional scoring. In back to back wins Ottawa has scored 10 goals, and have outscored the Panthers 28-13 in the seven game winning streak over the Panthers. New addition Kyle Turris had an assist in Tuesday night’s win over Buffalo and was dominant in the faceoff circle winning seven of nine.
Ironically both Senator goaltenders are former Panthers with Craig Anderson getting the bulk of the work, with Alex Auld as the backup. Anderson has won four straight games over the Panthers giving up only four goals in that span. In 29 games so far this year, Anderson has 14 wins, but his GAA is a high 3.33 and his save percentage is .896.
* Ottawa leads the series 40-24-3-2.
* Daniel Alfredsson is the longest serving captain in the NHL, with 12 years. All with the Senators.
* Ottawa defenceman Filip Kuba is one point away from 300 in his career.
* Zenon Konopka is one of the coolest names in the game.
* The Panthers have lost 116 man games to injury.
* Shawn Matthias and Mike Santorelli each need one point to hit 50 in their careers.
* Kris Versteeg ranks 2nd in the NHL in points on the road with 21 (8-13). Jonathan Toews is 1st with 23 (12-11).
* Tonight’s game features the top two offensive defences. Ottawa has 86 points and Florida has 82.
* Craig Anderson played three seasons in Florida from 2006 to 2009, winning 24 games in a backup role.
* Alex Auld played one season for Florida, 2006-2007 winning 7 games in 27 starts. A knee injury hampered his season.
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