MONTREAL CANADIENS: 14-7-7 (35 PTS.) vs. FLORIDA PANTHERS: 19-12-7 (45 PTS.)
OPPOSITION SITE: A WINNING HABIT (WRITERS WANTED)
GAME TIME: 7:00 P.M.
The Florida Panthers will play their final game of the 2011 season tonight against the Montreal Canadiens and try to avoid their fifth loss in six games. It’s really been a tale of two years in one for Florida as the first half of the calender year saw a team that was dramatically different then the one that’s on the ice now, despite the recent slump. Early season wins in October and November have turned out to be crucial as the December is threatening to end with a thud. The Panthers are still first in the Southeast Division and third in the conference, however their lead over the Winnipeg Jets is now only four points after last night’s loss to the New York Rangers. The Washington Capitals are only five points behind themselves, giving tonight’s game significant importance.
The good thing about back to back games is that if the front game is a bust, there’s a quick turnaround the night after with little time to dwell on the loss. Kevin Dineen wasn’t pleased about last night’s 4-1 loss to the Rangers as he pointed to some specific issues in last night’s post game scrum:
“Our start. You’re playing one of the top teams in the conference and at least you look at the standings and the league has us up in that area and I’d thought we’d be better prepared then we were,’’ Panthers coach Kevin Dineen said. “As bad as they were physically and just outplayed in Washington the other night obviously their response was very good and we didn’t match that effort.
“There were some breakdowns in front of [Clemmensen] and at the end of the day his job is to stop the puck and he didn’t succeed in that early in the first and it’s the first time I pulled somebody in the middle of [the period]. We needed better goaltending for us to have a chance against that team tonight.”
Those comments by Dineen were similar to what was said in the dressing room by some of the players who were still around after the game, one of them being forward Matt Bradley who also spoke of the “lack of preparedness:
“We weren’t ready for the game and there’s no excuse for that,’’ Bradley said. “That the top team in the Eastern Conference. We know they work hard, that’s their M.O. For us to come out like that was embarrassing and no excuses and no reasons for that.’’
That being said, to a man everyone spoke about moving on and getting back at it tonight, and a better start to the game is expected by all. It’s possible that last night’s pugilistic ending to the game will have some effects that will carry over to this evening as George Richards discusses in his post game recap in the Miami Herald. It was announced earlier today that Kopecky will not be suspended, regardless of that, with the teams chasing Florida, the Panthers face another must win contest. It will take a solid effort like the one on Tuesday night where everyone steps up and plays hard for an entire 60 minutes.
The Panthers will face a struggling Montreal Canadiens team tonight. A team that’s “in flux” with the recent coaching change that saw former Panther coach and general manager Jacques Martin fired, and Randy Cunneyworth replacing him as interim coach for what could be the remainder of the season. Did I mention that Cunneyworth doesn’t speak French? Don’t worry, from what I know Kevin Dineen, coach of the Florida Panthers doesn’t speak Spanish either……While still only six points out of a playoff spot, Montreal comes to town for their last game of a six game road trip that finds them having lost six of their last seven games, and only three wins in their last 10. Clearly a team that is in a funk, and the Panthers better make sure that they don’t play to the level of their competition. They aren’t as bad as they were last night, and they must be 100% better tonight.
The Canadiens lost on Thursday to Tampa by a score of 4-3 in a way that would make Jacques Martin proud. They gave up two goal lead, making it the third time in six games that they’ve gone down in def3eat that way. Some habits just die a slow death, but this could also be a result of a team that has no confidence either. Montreal is struggling to score goals and ranks 22nd in the league having scored 97 after 38 games with Eric Cole leading the team with 15. Max Pacioretty is second on the team in goals with 11 and Tomas Plekanec leads in points with 29. Michael Cammalleri is among the struggling offensive weapons this season, and only has eight goals so far. An effort was made to potentially help the offence, and maybe the power play as the Habs traded for defenceman Tomas Kaberle, acquiring him from the Carolina Hurricanes in exchange for defenceman Jaroslav Spacek. In nine games so far Kaberle has no goals, but has six assists.
In our podcast that we posted yesterday, @HabscoachK talked in detail about this Montreal team from his point of view. He gave a fairly solid assessment of the issues and problems surrounding the Canadiens, indicating that there could be more changes ahead for the franchise come this off season. This will be the second meeting between the two clubs on the year, with the Panthers winning the first match at the Centre Bell by a 2-1 margin with Jacob Markstrom getting the win. Carey Price who like Jose Theodore did not play that game is expected to be in net tonight. Price is 1-5-0 since December 15th, but 3-1-0 with a 1.99 GAA in four career starts in Florida. Jose Theodore is 2-2-1 with a 4.48 GAA against his former team.
* Florida Panther defenceman Keaton Ellerby is cousins with Montreal’s Carey Price.
* The Florida Panthers had a season high 43 hits last night with Erik Gudbranson getting a career high of six.
* Stephen Weiss needs one assist (130) to tie Olli Jokinen for the all time team lead (131).
* Florida leads the series all time 31-24-6-7.
* Brian Campbell has 25 points against Montreal in his career. The highest point total against any team he’s played against.
* The Panthers are struggling defensively having allowed 19 goals in their past four games.
* Montreal coach Randy Cunneyworth won his first game against Ottawa on December 27th.
* Montreal defenceman Raphael Diaz has five points in his last two games.
* Like Florida, Montreal has six players in injured reserve including Scott Gomez and Brian Gionta.
* Jose Theodore played 10 seasons for Montreal.
* No current Canadiens player has played for the Panthers.
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