Game Day Preview: Jets vs. Panthers. Back On Top

Southeast division battle Image Credit: Bruce Fedyck-US PRESSWIRE

 WINNIPEG JETS: 24-22-6 ( 54 PTS.) vs. FLORIDA PANTHERS: 23-15-11 (57 PTS.)

GAME TIME: 7:30 P.M.

OPPOSITION SITE:  HOCKEY AT THE FORKS (WRITERS WANTED)

 TSN GAMEDAY

Scoreboard watching in February has been an uncommon practice over the past decade for Florida Panther faithful, however with this years thankful fast start, combined with a little burp recently, that’s what we have.  And if you’re like me your thought process is that virtually every game is meaningful.  With Wednesday nights victory over the Washington Capitals the Panthers took back the lead in the Southeast Division and leaped from ninth in the conference back up to third, a position they held for almost 60 consecutive days this season.

Battling injuries to forwards, defencemen and even goaltending, in the grand scheme of things the Panthers have remained resilient.  Credit the boys in the room, the coaching staff led by Kevind Dineen, and the character approach the Dale Tallon has instilled.  That said, tonight’s game against the Winnipeg Jets represents another opportunity for the Florida Panthers to extend their slim lead over Washington, and create some additional space over the Jets.  With Mikael Samuelsson coming off a two goal night, he’s just one of the important pieces to the teams success down the stretch.  A veteran player like Samuelsson knows what stretch runs like this are all about:

“It’s good to start off on a good note after a little break here, coming back,” right wing Mikael Samuelsson said. “At the same time, we have to concentrate on the next game pretty much right away because it’s so tight and we need the wins.”

Sammy’s two goals Wednesday sparked the win, as secondary scoring has been sporadic throughout the season.  Another shot in the arm would be the return of leading point producer Kris Versteeg who missed Wednesday night’s game with flu like symptoms.  Having Versteeg in the lineup tonight significantly raises the chances for victory as the colorful winger has played some of his best hockey against the Jets with five goals and two assists in the last two games versus the division rival.  Tomas Fleischmann who needs to find his scoring touch as well, could be on his way back with two helpers in the win against Washington.

Besides battling scoring from secondary players, and getting the FlashMob Line back in it’s earlier season form, one of the keys to victory heading into the last 33 games will be how the Panthers actually play.  At nights they get away from the style that made them successful earlier, and revert to a dump and chase, chip the puck out game, rather than making the effort to control the play.  Harvey Fialkov mentions this in his blog post yesterday.  When the Panthers leave the “cute” for the dance floor instead of the ice, they are utilizing their speed and passing skills and playing a more north-south game.  Personally, I can do without the drop passes, and the weaving and bobbing.

Scott Clemmensen is another player that has quietly risen to the occasion as Jose Theodore is still recovering from his knee injury.  Clemmensen has kept the games close, and is looking to make his fourth consecutive start.  Fortunately a veteran, he’s used to this grind and has played out his role with a great attitude to support his performance.  he hasn’t been perfect, but as I said earlier this season about Theodore, neither has he.   A collective team effort will be the key to success for Florida.

As for the Winnipeg Jets, they are coming off a 2-1 overtime win over Tampa Bay last night, and are three points in back of Florida.  Their previous game was a 2-1 shootout win over Philadelphia on Tuesday, and is in the middle of six games on the road, which they’ve split with their opponents.  Captain Andrew Ladd is the leading scorer with 16 goals, and Blake Wheeler leads in assists (25) and points with 35.  Nik Antropov is also playing well with three goals and four assists in his previous seven games.  Although of the eight goals he has scored this season, only one has come on the road.

The Jets aren’t exactly going to overwhelm you with scoring, or with significant physical play.  They just play hard and are when things are working on all cylinders play a solid game, keeping things simple.  Goaltender Ondrej Pavlec is the workhorse in net playing 43 games this season.  He’s won 18 of them, and has a 2.74 GAA with a .912 save percentage.  When he’s good, he can be unbeatable.  However head coach Claude Noel has indicated that back up Chris Mason will get the start tonight.  Mason is 6-5-0 in 14 games this season and is 0-2-0 in his last two starts.  Evander Kane remains out of the lineup with concussion symptoms, and a number of players in the lineup for Winnipeg are scoreless in their previous four plus games. Defenceman Dustin Byfuglien returned to the lineup last night after missing 16 games with a knee injury.  Thought he’s not having as dominant a season as last year, his presence is felt, and needed by the Jets.

Five of the previous six games have gone past regulation and the Panthers are 3-0-3 during that time, and that includes being 2-0-1 this season.  A win is necessary tonight for Florida.  In regulation.  Points cannot be afforded to the Jets if we expect to create some distance.  You know how I feel about shootouts, and as for extra hockey, I don’t want mine free, I’ll pay for it in the playoffs!

Nerdy Notes/Numbers:

* The Florida Panthers man games lost to injury count is up to 200, while Winnipeg has lost 229.

* Defenceman Brian Campbell is two points shy of 350 for his career.

* Scott Clemmensen has only one regulation loss in his last eight games.  4-1-3.

* The Panthers are 8-1-2 against Canadian teams this season.

* When the Panthers score three goals or more their record is 18-1-4, and are 16-1-6 when scoring first.

* Friday’s aren’t good nights for the Panthers as they are 1-5-2.

* Kyle Wellwood’s winning goal against Tampa in overtime Thursday was his first career overtime goal.

* Jets defenceman Mark Stuart ranks second in blocked shots with 127.

* Chris Thorburn scored his first goal of the year January 31st in his 50th game, on his 47th shot.

* Former Panther Tanner Glass leads the Jets in hits with 151, which ranks him 11th in the NHL.

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Topics: Battle In The Southeast, Big Buff, Boxscore, Dustin Byfuglien, Florida Panthers, Game Day Preview, Mikael Samuelsson, Money, Winnipeg Jets

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