FLORIDA PANTHERS: 21-15-10 (52 PTS.) vs. WINNIPEG JETS: 22-20-5 (49 PTS.)
GAME TIME: 7:00 PM. EASTERN
OPPOSITION SITE: HOCKEY AT THE FORKS
The Florida Panthers are coming off another disappointing road loss last night at the hands of the very talented and skilled Chicago Blackhawks. A game for me that despite my Chicago roots, I didn’t enjoy watching all that much. I spent a good portion of the night trying to prevent people from jumping out the window, and while we/you have every right to be upset, you can’t just give up, as some seem to have. People who’ve never experienced a playoff run…..welcome to that world. What did you expect to happen against the Hawks? The Panthers lost 3-1 to a team with the most points in the NHL. Ashamed? Don’t be. The Hawks are a very good hockey team, and actually they are a mature version of where we want our Panthers to be at some point down the road. We aren’t there yet. You want to see how a captain plays? If you payed any attention at all last night, Jonathan Toews was a perfect example of why he is the best two way player in hockey and likely one of the very best in the game today. That is a captain.
I have no problem with people getting mad, angry, and upset at how we’ve been playing lately. Our best players have not been our best players. No one is coming forward, and too many players are trying to do too much. However to give up with 36 games left in the season is grounds for insanity. I find it funny that over the past few seasons with the talentless rosters we’ve had, people continued to have hope that a playoff run was possible. This year those same people and maybe a few others are ready to jump ship with a much better team and coach. This ain’t easy, and it only gets tougher. We all want results, but let’s be smart about this and have a little faith for a change. It’s going to be a bumpy ride to April. Hope you can handle it.
The game in Winnipeg tonight has two big points awaiting the winner, and for Florida it also has a bearing on where they finish up the weekend in the standings. Currently in the eighth spot, a loss drops them to ninth and out of the playoff picture. A loss tonight would also be the ninth consecutive on the road, but there is something to be positive about. When these two teams met earlier in the season (November 10th), Florida won 5-2 with Kris Versteeg recording his first NHL hat trick of his career, as well as adding an assist. Reflecting on that might just be enough to spark the struggling forward who has only one assist in his last nine games.
The Panthers will have to muster more offence then they did last evening as only 19 shots were put on Chicago’s Ray Emery, who for the most part wasn’t really tested. Still too many shots that were easy to save, the Panthers need to get to the dirty areas, and create some traffic in the crease, and grab some rebounds. We need players driving to the net and being more aggressive in their shooting. Mike Santorelli has a healthy scratch last night as his play has been nothing more than flat. He looks as though the definition of sophomore slump was made specifically for him. Meanwhile he needs to regain his offensive touch from last season otherwise I think he finds himself as the odd man out.
After starting the past two games, Jose Theodore most likely rests tonight in place of Scott Clemmensen. With the way the team in front of the goaltender has been playing lately, Florida will need a perfect game from Clemmensen tonight as he’ll be looked upon to stop the bleeding. After giving up goals early in games he’s recently started, the Panthers and Clemmensen can ill afford to fall behind quickly at the raucous MTS Centre in Winnipeg.
The Jets are coming off a 4-1 win over the spiralling Buffalo Sabres, as Winnipeg won for only the fourth time in 10 games. So we have two struggling teams facing each other tonight, with both looking for a positive finish before the All-Star break next week. Evander Kane leads the Jets in goals with 18, followed by ex-Blackhawk Andrew Ladd with 16. Blake Wheeler leads the team in points with 33 (9g-24a). Kane will be sitting this one out as he’s suffering from concussion symptoms that occurred during Thursday night’s game against the Sabres.
The Jets are a team that lately is playing as inconsistently as the Panthers and you never know what you’ll be faced with against a team like that. Their impressive 15-8-1 record at home causes concern that it will be a tough venue to play in, and an early goal or two to quiet the crowd is imperative for any chance at winning tonight. Keep your eyes on Tobias Enstrom, a dangerous little defenceman who can put points up with the best of them. Also, Kyle Wellwood, yes Kyle Wellwood. If you recall he had the shootout winner in Florida when Winnipeg beat the Panthers 4-3.
Ondrej Pavelec will likely get the start tonight and in 39 games so far he’s 16-16-5 with a 2.83 GAA and a .910 save percentage with three shutouts. When he’s sharp he’s very difficult to beat. When he’s off, like any other goaltender having a rough night, you can grab yourself a win. The Panthers will have to play some smart and simple hockey tonight. Getting out of this funk isn’t going to be easy as other teams know we’re struggling. Winnipeg can play with some physicality which we can match, but if we get frustrated, we’ll see ourselves taking some bad penalties, which we just can’t do.
* Winnipeg has lost 213 man games to injury. The Panthers have lost 185.
* Defenceman Mark Stuart of Winnipeg ranks second in the NHL with 118 blocked shots.
* Seven of Evander Kane’s 18 goals have been the opening goal of a game, ranking him second in that category.
* Brian Campbell is three points shy of 350 in his NHL career.
* The Panthers are 7-1-2 against Canadian opponents this season.
* The Panthers are 1-4-1 in the second of back to back games this year.
Join us tonight at Duffy’s Sports Grille in West Palm Beach on Southern Blvd for our Road Watch.
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