NEW FEATURE: GAME DAY SONG: BY SWITCHFOOT
If your looking for a reason to get pumped up about tonight’s game between the Florida Panthers and the Los Angeles Kings, you can forget the angst you might still feel about Mike Richards. That is old news number one, and David Booth doesn’t live here anymore number two. The Panthers have much bigger fish to fry, such as reclaiming their Southeast division lead, a playoff push, and the continual battle that “they aren’t good enough”. Yes, we are one of the NHL’s biggest surprises of the season, but it’s not because of luck that we find ourselves in the thick of a hunt for the post season. No, it’s because we started the season off on the right foot, and won more games than we were anticipated to win, and potentially took a lot of teams by surprise.
The injury bug hit hard and continues to be a factor, yet not an excuse for our recent inconsistency, the fact of the matter is, NHL pundits continue to feel that we are a “dark horse” for the playoffs, and that we won’t be able to sustain the effort that we exhibited early in the season that lasted till mid December. We’ve been fighting this pessimism all season long, and you can believe that the guys in the room are doing everything they can to make the naysayers eat their words.
Tonight’s game will be the second and last meeting of the regular season between these two teams, with L.A. winning the first game 2-1 back on December 1st in Los Angeles. The Kings are looking for their 8th consecutive win over Florida tonight, a streak the Panthers would love to end. The last time the Panthers beat Los Angeles was in October of 2001 as Billy Lindsay scored 29 seconds into the game and Florida won 3-2.
If your looking for positives, two thirds of the FlashMob Line seems to be rejuvenated as Kris Versteeg has six points in his last five games and Tomas Fleischmann has four points in his last five. Also, Mikael Samuelsson has five points in five games. Stephen Weiss needs to get himself back on track immediately if not sooner. The Panthers cannot afford him to continue staying off the scoresheet in these important games. Whatever gear he may be stuck in, he’ll need to get himself moving again. As I prepare this, Scott Clemmensen gets the start tonight with Jose Theodore backing him up. The Panthers will need a very sharp game from Clemmensen tonight, and can ill afford to give up an early goal to the Kings.
The Kings on the other hand are a team that has gone through a coaching change mid season, and has responded fairly well. Darryl Sutter took over from Terry Murray and the Kings are 11-4-6 since Sutter took over, .667 winning percentage for the stoic bench boss. The Kings currently are seventh in the always tough Western conference, trailing the Chicago Blackhawks by three points. Surprisingly the Kings are last in the NHL in scoring and have only 118 goals for as a team. Mike Richards who will no longer be referred to public enemy number one here (unless he does something new) has scored only 14 times, and only once the previous 19 games. Anze Kopitar is the team leader in goals (17) and points (47). Justin Williams has been consistently good over the last dozen games with 13 points. Dustin Brown the team captain plays in the same mold as their new head coach. With a lot of snarl, and he can also score. Brown typically is among the league leaders in hits and has 189 so far this season.
The big story for the Kings this year is goaltender Jonathan Quick. Quick was a first time All-Star this season and why not? In 45 games he has 23 wins, a 1.89 GAA and a .935 save percentage. Jonathan Bernier a very capable backup and potentially a player that could start on most teams is the backup. I mentioned earlier that the Kings were last in goals for, but they are third in goals against, having given up only 117. The Jonathan’s are the reason why, to go along with some solid defensive play.
A Western conference matchup doesn’t normally generate much excitement for some fans down here, and I honestly don’t know why. The teams in that conference play a style that is dramatically different than the East in my opinion. There’s more physicality, the games are more uptempo, and there is significantly less trapping. Not many teams in the West will make you fall asleep.
If you don’t have tickets, you should go out and get some. The playoffs are on the line, there’s only 30 games left in the season. Your rear ends need to be in a seat at the Bank Atlantic Center. Tonight!
* Man games lost to injury for Florida is now up to 221. The Kings have lost 104.
* Soupy needs one more point for 350 in his NHL career.
* Keaton Ellerby will play in game 100 tonight.
* Stephen Weiss has no points against the Kings. Perfect night to change that.
* Sean Bergenheim has seven points in his last eight games.
* The Panthers are 17-1-6 when scoring first.
* The Kings are 15-0-1 when scoring the first goal.
* In their last nine games the Kings have scored either one or no goals five times, yet are 4-3-2 in that span.
* Anze Kopitar has 18 points in his last 22 games.
* As a team the Kings are second in the NHL in hits with 1,480.
Thanks for reading. We welcome comments and opinions.
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