Dec 1, 2010; Anaheim, CA, USA; Anaheim Ducks right wing Bobby Ryan (9) attempts to keep the puck away from Florida Panthers defenseman Keaton Ellerby (4) at the Honda Center. The Anaheim Ducks defeated the Florida Panthers 5-3. Mandatory Credit: Kelvin Kuo-US PRESSWIRE

Game Day Preview: Ducks Vs. Panthers. Time For Us To Fly

DUCKS24-24-10 (58 PTS) at PANTHERS27-19-11 (68 PTS)




Only a few days ago I posted an article about how the Panthers and their fans should not be quick to push the panic button on the season.  I cited the rough patch against the Lightning and Capitals last week when many Panther fans anxiously bit their nails waiting for our entire season to collapse, only to see us win the next three games in convincing fashion.

I just didn’t think the Panthers would hit another rough patch so soon after I posted that article.  That night they were swamped by the Ottawa Senators at the BAC, and were trounced by their arch-enemy Capitals only two nights later.  All of a sudden, the Panthers division lead is still present and we are still in control of our own destiny, but they are skating on thin ice with their play of late.

The Panthers have not gotten off to a grand start in kicking off their four-game homestand, dropping the first two in regulation.  To make matters tough in Game 3, the Cats will have to square off against one of the hottest teams in the league right now, the Anaheim Ducks.  Coached by one Bruce Boudreau, the Ducks have been quite mighty as of late.  On the Ducks’ current eight-game road stand, they are a smooth 3-0-2 coming into tonight’s game.  Also, they are running on an eight-game point streak, on which they are 5-0-3.

The hiring of Boudreau as head coach has really lit a fire under the Ducks since he was hired.  At the turn of the calendar year, the Ducks have gone 14-3-4 and are as hot as any team in the NHL.  Most of this streak is a result of the incredible goaltending coming from Jonas Hiller.  He has started the Ducks last seventeen games, and in that span he is 11-2-4 with a 1.79 GAA.  His success against the Panthers over his career is also distinguished as he has won both of his starts against them, with one of those wins being a shutout.

The offense of the Ducks has also risen considerably since the hiring of Boudreau.  The dormant Ryan Getzlaf has finally ignited his talents as a puck-moving center, and is feeding passes all over the rink to wingers Corey Perry and Bobby Ryan.  Not to be outclassed by the Ducks’ potent top line is one of the NHL’s all-time greats, Teemu Selanne, who is still playing at a high level.  The 41-year old leads Anaheim with 52 points in his 58 games.

The Panthers saw this offensive attack coming from miles away, so Dale Tallon reached back into his organizational depth to make a move to bolster the blue line.  Up from San Antonio is the Rampage’s captain, Nolan Yonkman, while Colby Robak will be sent back down.  Robak just wasn’t impressive enough on Kevin Dineen or management to keep him around at this critical junction of the season: his play wasn’t horrible, but it lacked the offensive explosiveness that we have heard about in San Antonio.  Maybe in a year or two Robak will get a better chance at cracking the roster, but for now the Panthers will play it safe.

And with Yonkman, the Panthers know exactly what they are getting.  Yonkman is a dependable, stay-at-home defenseman that will deliver a big hit now and again and will clear the crease.  Yonkman knows how to use his hulking 6’7″ frame to play a rugged defense, something the Panthers have been missing since the injuries to Ed Jovanovski and Jason Garrison.  Needless to say, the Panthers will get an upgrade defensively without having to empty their wallets through a trade.

Offensively, the Panthers hit a brick wall against the Capitals.  They spent most of the game in their own zone, killing off penalties or fighting for possession along the side boards.  Just not much explosiveness to speak of as the Caps pretty much bottled up the Cats.  The Panthers could do a little more tonight than they did against Washington, as the Ducks D is known to be slightly less formidable.  Tomas Fleischmann will look to extend his point-streak to six games, and Stephen Weiss will continue to try and feed the man sweet passes.  If Kris Versteeg can keep up his stick-handling skills, Shawn Matthias can generate chances off the rush, and the second line can keep up the pressure after the FlashMob Line, the Panthers should find sources of offense easily.  It should only be a matter of conversion, not number of chances.

In goal, expect Jose Theodore to start for the Panthers following his incredibly solid performance against Washington.  He deserved a win for his efforts, and it has been pointed out that his second period in that game might have been his best in a Panther uniform.  He made some special saves to keep the floundering Panthers in that game.  It will be mandatory for Theodore to continue his great run if the Panthers want to string wins together.

And that is the key after all.  The Panthers have been outplayed recently, so they need to catch up to Dineen’s standards of play and string wins together.  What the Panthers need more than anything is separation from the Capitals and Jets, and it’ll take more than .500 hockey to get us there.  Florida got a boost from the Lightning Saturday night when they beat the Caps in regulation, so the Panthers will need to capitalize on that.  A four point lead is a lot better than a two point lead: it’s time to fly away from the rest of the division.

Nerdy Notes/Numbers:

*Florida is 21-2-4 when tallying at least three goals (including shootouts) this season, but is 6-17-7 when notching two goals or less.

*Bobby Ryan injured his leg after a hit from Anton Volchenkov of the Devils, but he is probable for the game against Florida.

*Corey Perry‘s next goal will give him 30 on the year, the third time he has reached that number in his seven NHL seasons.

*Corey Perry has seven goals in his last six games.

*The Florida Panthers have lost 250 man-games to injury so far this year.

*Jose Theodore has won his last three starts against Anaheim, with a 1.95 GAA.

*The Ducks will be without backup goaltender Dan Ellis (groin).

Thanks for reading!  Be sure to comment and go to tonight’s game.  Puck drop is at 6 PM!

Follow the Rat Pack on Twitter: me @GreatScottsman, Frank Rekas @TheRatTrick, David Lasseter @davidlasseter, Josh Luecht @joshluecht, Patrick McLaughlin @PatrickRattrick, Cameron Tahernia @Lord_Panther, Paige Lewis @peejlewiz, and David Rodriguez @davidbub_2.   Also, please joinour Facebook Fan Page and hit the like button, send us photos, and make some comments.

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Tags: Anaheim Ducks Bobby Ryan Bruce Boudreau Colby Robak Corey Perry Florida Panthers Jonas Hiller Jose Theodore Kevin Dineen Kris Versteeg Nolan Yonkman Ryan Getzlaf Shawn Matthias Stephen Weiss Tomas Flesichmann

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