NEW YORK RANGERS: 22-9-4 (48 PTS.) vs. FLORIDA PANTHERS: 19-11-7 (45 PTS.)
GAME TIME: 7:30 P.M. EASTERN
OPPOSITION SITE: BLUE LINE STATION
When the Florida Panthers lost 6-1 to the New York Rangers on December 11th, Panthers coach Kevin Dineen called it “a good old fashioned tail kicking”. And that it was as Derek Stepan scored twice for the Rangers in route to their one sided victory. Jose Theodore who was 14-3-1including a tie in his previous 19 starts against the Rangers was pulled after giving up six goals on 22 shots in two periods of play. The Panthers power play was zero for seven that night, while the Rangers had two power play goals. Not that special teams had anything to do with the outcome, but it may have changed things had Florida been able to connect on one early on.
The teams have split the two games so far with Florida winning here in Sunrise 2-1 back in November and both squads are in first place in their respective divisions. The Rangers are second in the Eastern Conference with 48 points and the Panthers are third with 45 points. The Panthers will try to take advantage of the attention surrounding the Rangers with the filming of the HBO special 24/7 leading up to the Winter Classic. The game itself is Monday, and that combined with New Years Eve tomorrow, could be a slight distraction for the team in blue.
The Rangers are 7-3-0 in their last 10 games, and finally after being held off the scoreboard for 17 games, Brandon Dubinsky is beginning to score some points as he has four in his last four games. The ever dangerous Marion Gaborik leads the team in goals with 22 and points with 39. The Rangers are also coming off a 4-1 loss on Wednesday night at the hands of the Washington Capitals. The Ranger defence struggled that game with what coach John Tortorella called “some brain dead plays at our blue line”.
I would expect Henrik Lundqvist to be back in net tonight as Martin Biron started the Caps game on Wednesday. King Henrik is 3-0-0- in his last three starts with an even 1.00 GAA. In his last last eight games against the Panthers he’s 6-2-0.
Florida in the first of two back to back games will look to avenge the lopsided loss from earlier in the month by continuing to play their tenacious style. Limiting scoring chances, staying out of the penalty box, and taking advantage of whatever mistakes the Rangers make will be the keys to the game for the Panthers. With seven players out for injury, the list can’t get any longer, and those players that are filling in like Michal Repik must continue to step up. Repik who probably had his best game as a Panther Tuesday needs to follow up with a repeat performance tonight.
Center Stephen Weiss who participated in the morning skate could play tonight, and was centering a line with Tomas Kopecky and Kris Versteeg as his wingers. Whether this trio stays together or not remains to be seen, as it could be coach Kevin Dineen just testing things out. Dineen said this morning that his decision will come after warmups tonight. Jason Garrison still leads defencemen in goals scored with 11, and Kris Versteeg leads the Panthers in goals with 17 and points with 38. Keeping those two healthy is key for the success of the Panthers. Tomas Fleischmann broke a 10 game scoring drought on Tuesday with a very important insurance goal against the Leafs, needs to get back on a streak as well.
The Panthers record at home in their last 10 games is 7-1-2, and that includes the 2-1 win over the Rangers on November 23rd. After this game tonight the Cats take on the Montreal Canadiens here at home tomorrow, then will get four days off before hitting the road next week. I’d be happy with three out of four points on this little home stand, but it sure would be nice get get all four.
* Kris Versteeg has 25 points in his last 22 games.
* The Panthers have lost 136 man games to injury.
* The Panthers have been in first place for 41 consecutive days, and 44 overall this season.
* Brian Campbell is tied for third in assists with 27 in the league.
* The Rangers lead the series all time 39-26-6-4.
* The Rangers have only allowed 73 goals so far this season. Ranking them for second in the league.
* Marion Gaborik is one assist away from 300 in his career.
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