FLORIDA PANTHERS: 26-17-11 (63 PTS) vs. NEW YORK ISLANDERS: 23-23-8 (54 PTS)
GAME TIME: 3:00 PM
OPPOSITION SITE: EYES ON ISLES
It appears that merely days after two pathetic performances against the Lightning and Capitals, the Florida Panthers are back in the winning habit. Wins against the Kings and Devils have put the Panthers back on top of the division and have greatly alleviated the panic in the Panthers’ fan base. But only twenty-four hours after the end of the game the day before at the Rock, the Panthers will have to play a second game a little farther north.
Uniondale will be the site, and there they will find the New York Islanders, a team hard to gauge at this point of the season. The Islanders are 7-2-2 in their last eleven, and they will be looking to continue their torrid stretch against the Panthers. But luckily for Florida, the Islanders likely will not wheel out its best player, Evgeni Nabokov. Nabokov has just been ridiculous as of late, and he has stolen wins and points for the Islanders by keeping the score low. However, scheduling will likely force Nabokov out for this game, as he would be played in three games within twenty-four hours if he started. Coach Jack Capuano should be more inclined to start backup Al Montoya.
The Islanders do have capability on offense, but most of that comes from their top line. The third forward switches up often, but the two constants on that line are Matt Moulson and John Tavares. The offensive skills of the two of them are downright scary. Moulson sits on 24 goals and 24 assists on the year, while Tavares is doing even better with 22 goals and 32 assists. Recently, Kyle Okposo has joined the top line and he is no schmuck either as he’s having a 30 point season so far. On the blue line, defenseman Mark Streit is back to himself after a lengthy off-season injury. He racks up the ice time on the Islanders, and the Panthers will see the smooth-skating d-man in every scenario.
The Panthers find themselves back on the winning side of things as of late, and they have a really good chance to extend their winning streak to three games. The FlashMob line produced once again yesterday in New Jersey, and the second line of Marcel Goc, Sean Bergenheim, and Mikael Samuelsson is magma-hot right now, too. Bergenheim scored a power play goal last night, and Samuelsson netted the empty-netter. They are finally giving Weiss, Versteeg, and Fleischmann the support they’ve needed all year. If the Panthers can reach three goals in this game, there is no reason why they can’t beat the Islanders.
It’s also necessary to have a goaltender that can keep the Islanders under three goals. That’s where Jose Theodore comes in. He will most likely return from injury today, as Scott Clemmsensen will get some much needed rest. Theodore has been great against the Islanders this year, giving up only two goals in 5 periods of work. He shut out the Islanders in Nassau Coliseum on the first game of the year, and gave up two a few weeks later at home before succumbing to injury (Jacob Markstrom finished that game off for a Panthers win). Expect Theodore to be strong in his return.
One more item of interest to note: the Panthers have called up Colby Robak from the San Antonio Rampage to shore up the defense. Jason Garrison left the game against the Devils with a lower-body injury, and will most likely sit out the New York game as well. Robak will fill in nicely on the blue line, as he is one of the lesser prospects in the Panthers’ system who is still getting it done. He has great offensive prowess for a defenseman, tallying 7 goals and 18 assists in 45 games. He also is responsible in the defensive zone, as his plus/minus is sitting at a pretty +12. His great numbers even earned him a trip to the AHL All Star game this year. Expect him to fit in quite nicely with a limited amount of ice time.
All things considered, this has to be a must-win game for the Panthers. You can’t let teams like the Islanders beat you if you want to stick around with the big-time teams, much less win the division.
*The Panthers have allowed a goal in the first two minutes of the last three away games.
*Mark Streit has scored goals in his last two games.
*Kris Versteeg scored his 21st goal of the season on Saturday, one short of his career high.
*Nabokov’s victory on Saturday was the 306th of his career, moving him past Isles Hall of Famer Billy Smith into 22nd place on the all-time list.
*The Panthers aren’t the only team that has trouble at the start of games – the Islanders have surrendered a goal on the first official shot on goal they’ve faced 10 times this season.
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