MONTREAL CANADIENS: 24-28-10 (58 PTS.) vs. FLORIDA PANTHERS: 28-20-12 (68 PTS.)
OPPOSITION SITE: A WINNING HABIT
Less than 24 hours after a thrilling shootout win over the Carolina Hurricanes, the Florida Panthers will host the Montreal Canadiens with the hopes of Saturday night’s momentum carrying over for another crucial matchup. The victory snapped a 0-3-1 streak for Florida, and allowed the Cats to return to the top of the Southeast division for another day. The Panthers will hope to snap another streak this evening, as they have lost their last four in a row at the Bank Atlantic Center.
The newest members of the Panthers Jerred Smithson and Wojtek Wolski made their presence known yesterday with strong play, and a solid work ethic. For Wolski who was acquired in the early afternoon from the New York Rangers, the day was filled with chaos and excitement. The Rangers held a morning practice, which featured a bag skate, then Wolski was notified of the trade, quickly packed his bags and was on a flight to Raleigh to join his new team. It was only the 10th game of the season for the 26 year old forward and he made a definite impact scoring the game tying goal with just under two minutes remaining in regulation. It was Wolski’s first goal of the season, and after his solid performance the goal justified his performance.
Smithson was solid on faceoff’s, good defensively in his end, but to the surprise of some, made a very nifty pass to Kris Versteeg, using the boards to head man the puck to the winger who went in for a scoring chance. Smithson not known for his offensive ability, was solid the entire night as well. Even though this is a back to back game, we can only hope that the Panthers feed off their energy, as well as the solid performance of Jose Theodore who kept the game close, while the Panthers were unable to get anything past Hurricane goaltender Justin Peters.
The Canadiens who were still clinging to their playoff hopes just a couple weeks ago, now look to avoid their sixth loss in seven games. Their 1-4-1 performance has dropped them to the bottom of the Eastern Conference, and they’ve been outscored 21-11 in those six games. They have lost three straight with a 4-1 defeat to the Washington Capitals on Friday being their most recent contest. Their once potent power play has now gone 0 for 4 in two consecutive games.
Randy Cunneyworth had some choice words for his club after the loss:
“We have to work on being more disciplined. We had a few chances where we could have taken advantage of our power plays but instead we took penalties of our own. It always seemed to happen at the toughest times,” coach Randy Cunneyworth told the team’s official website.
“I’d also like to see us being a little more consistently physical out there. We should be finishing more of our checks. I’d like us to be harder on our opponents.”
The Panthers have beaten Montreal in both games so far this season, and have a 9-2-1 record against teams from Canada, which includes a 5-1-1 record at the Bank Atlantic Center. In what could be good news for the Panthers, Peter Budaj is slated to get the start in goal for Montreal. Budaj has a 0-3-1 road record in his past four games away from the Bell Centre and his GAA is a hefty 3.71. This will be Budaj’s ninth game of the season, as Carey Price has carried the load for Montreal. I would expect that Jose Theodore gets the start today, but as per usual head coach Kevin Dineen has yet to make an official announcement, therefore don’t be surprised if Scott Clemmensen gets the call either. Theodore has continued his superb play, but Clemmensen in what I would call small doses can certainly do the job.
The keys to the game will be to make sure that the Panthers don’t give up the first goal in the opening minutes, and keep the Montreal fans quiet. They’ll need to keep themselves out of the penalty box as well, and not give the Canadiens any reason to steal momentum. With the trade deadline less than 24 hours away, players on each team could be a bit tense just for the simple fact that they may be unaware of their future. The Panthers who know that Dale Tallon isn’t finished wheeling dealing, has made his moves so far without giving up a roster player. I can’t say whether that will hold true or not if he’s still looking to make a deal, but nonetheless, Florida needs to worry about winning this game first. Worry about the trades later.
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