FLORIDA PANTHERS: 21-14-9 (51 PTS.) vs. COLORADO AVALANCHE: 24-21-2 (50 PTS.)
GAME TIME: 9:30 P.M. EASTERN
OPPOSITION SITE: MILE HIGH STICKING
With the Washington Capitals losing to the New York Islanders last night (3-0) the Florida Panthers find themselves back on top of the Southeast Division and in third place in the Eastern conference. While that lead over Washington is slim the next three games on the road starting tonight in Colorado are crucial. Grabbing four of six points would be deemed a success and would go a long way in preventing some Panther supporters from jumping off the proverbial bridge during the recent tailspin if you will.
The Panthers road record is 0-3-3 since beating the Boston Bruins on December 8th 2-0, and are coming off a shootout loss to those same Bruins on Monday night. The Colorado Avalanche are a team that the Panthers rarely face, and the Cats haven’t won there since a 4-1 victory on January 2nd, 2003. Florida’s record over the last 10 games is 3-4-3, and that type of inconsistent play in a tight divisional and conference race is going to have to be straightened out. A long winning streak of five to six games would create some much needed breathing room, as well as create some space from the teams such as Washington and Winnipeg who are chasing Florida.
We can’t do a pregame without mentioning the sudden disappearance of the FlashMob Line. The key to Florida’s success early on was the trio of Stephen Weiss, Kris Versteeg and Tomas Fleischmann. After going on a consistent scoring tear, both Flash and Versteeg have cooled off, and Weiss hasn’t scored a goal since December 5th. While the trio has been creating scoring chances, they also have missed a number of opportunities either by whiffing on shots, making ill advised passes, or trying to do too much. All signs of frustration and “holding the stick too tight”. A road trip away from South Florida could help turn things around, and that line must lead the way for the Panthers to be successful. In the previously mentioned road losses, the trio along with Jason Garrison have scored only two goals.
Goaltending has been another issue and the return of Jose Theodore will hopefully tighten up a defence that’s given up 28 goals in those 6 road losses. Theo has missed five games with a knee injury and is expected to return tonight to face his former team. Jose played for a couple seasons in Colorado and is 2-1-0 since he left mile high country. In addition to Theodore’s return, Keaton Ellerby will be getting an opportunity to play as Ed Jovanovski is out of the lineup indefinitely for what appears to be a hand injury. Jovo was due to be examined today, and as I’m preparing this, there’s no word on the exact condition.
Colorado is experiencing the same inconsistencies as the Panthers and are 1-3-1 in their last five games which includes a 6-1 trouncing from the Phoenix Coyotes on Monday. Colorado is struggling to score goals as they have only six in that five game span, after averaging 2.7 in their previous 10 games, of which they won nine of. Not helping their offensive cause is the knee injury to Matt Duchene who’s on injured reserve, and is expected to be out at least a month. The offensive leader right now for Colorado is Ryan O’Reilly who has 12 goals, 21 assists for 33 points. Of the active players Milan Hejduk and Paul Statsny have 11 and 12 goals respectively.
Help could be coming Colorado’s way with Peter Mueller returning to the lineup after missing three months with a head injury. Mueller has played the last three games, and is being looked at as a player to spark the offence. Rookie Gabriel Landeskog has nine goals and 13 assists for 22 points and is a plus 11.
Florida could be looking at J.S. Giguere in goal who was given the night off against Phoenix. Jiggy is 6-2-1 in his last nine starts with a 2.19 GAA to go along with a 2-1-0 record against the Florida Panthers in his previous three starts against them.
Playing in Colorado is difficult for teams due to the elevation. It takes some getting used to and sometimes by the time a team gets their legs going, it can be too late. While Colorado does have a winning record at home (13-11-0) their inconsistent play has been the root of their trouble. Still, in typical Western Conference style, they will play a physical and hard nosed game. They also have superb team speed, and those two combinations could give the Panthers fits. Trying to slow the game down early might be one way for the Panthers to adjust to the mile high air, but at the same time, they have to get back to playing their game which we really haven’t seen in awhile.
Stay out of the box, roll four lines, and three defensive pairs to keep everyone fresh.
* Colorado has lost 156 man games to injury. They were 2nd in the NHL last year losing 474.
* Colorado is 10-4-1 in it’s last 15 home games.
* Like last season, this will be the only meeting between the two teams. Florida won in overtime last year 4-3 at the Bank Atlantic Center.
* Paul Statsny has 10 points (4g, 6-a) in six career games against Florida.
* Colorado is 9-2-0 against the Eastern Conference this season.
* Colorado is wearing their blue third sweaters tonight. They are 2-4-0 in them so far this season.
* Colorado leads the league in one goal victories with 16, and is 16-5-2 overall in one goal games.
* Joe Sacco is in his third season as the Avs coach and has a 97-95-19 record.
* Stephen Weiss will play in his 600th career game.
* Jose Theodore is one victory away from 275 in his career.
* In 32 games against Colorado, Mikael Samuelsson has 23 points. (10g/13a).
* Jose Theodore played 91 games for Colorado between 2006-2008, winning 42 of them.
* Tomas Fleischmann played 22 games for Colorado last years getting 21 points.
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