BUFFALO SABRES: 33-29-9 (75 PTS.) vs. FLORIDA PANTHERS: 34-23-13 (81 PTS.)
OPPOSITION SITE: SABRE NOISE
GAME DAY SONG: FLAMETHROWER by J GEILS BAND
Tonight the Florida Panthers hope to cap off their four game homestand with a perfect record. Having won the first three games over Carolina, Toronto and Boston this would be their fifth victory in a row at home and their fourth straight. During the homestand the Panthers have scored 13 goals behind some balanced scoring, and thanks to Jose Theodore have only given up four goals. Should the Panthers beat the Buffalo Sabres tonight, it would be the first time since 2008 that the Panthers would have a four game winning streak, and it would be their sixth straight win at home.
To say that the Florida Panthers are peaking at the right time would be an accurate assessment as the club is beginning to play with the same confidence, consistency, and balance as they had been earlier in the season. Tomas Fleischmann now leads the team in points with 51 and is tied for the lead in goals with Kris Versteeg at 22. That’s only because Versteeg has missed the last nine games with a lower body injury. Coach Kevin Dineen said that Versteeg will be in the lineup tonight, as will Dmitry Kulikov. The good thing is that Flash has picked up the slack during Versteeg’s absence, and will surpass his personal best of 51 points with either his next goal or assist. Also contributing has been Tomas Kopecky who may finally be creeping out of a two month long slump. With goals in each of the past two games, Kopecky ends a drought that dates back to January 18th, covering 22 games.
The recent success of the Panthers could also be traced to the play of Wojtek Wolski. Since Wolski was acquired 11 games ago, he has eight points and their record is 7-3-1. He clearly seems to have been another in a line of smart acquisitions by Dale Tallon. Jerred Smithson another player acquired before the deadline like Wolski, finally picked up his first point with an assist on Thursday night against Boston, and veteran John Madden also scored his first goal for the Cats as well.
Not to be lost in all the good news is the play of goaltender Jose Theodore. You could not have asked for anything better from your goaltender with the performance that he’s given this season. In 45 games Theodore has 21 wins and his GAA is 2.39 and his save percentage is .920. Numbers that are all very similar to Tomas Vokoun, who has become a distant memory with Theo’s play. He has started six games in a row, and I see no reason for that to stop.
Buffalo has taken two of three games against Florida so far this season with the last game a 2-1 overtime win in Buffalo. The Sabres are 6-2-2 in their past 10 games, and are still very much in the playoff hunt, and you can expect them to play with some hunger. Tyler Ennis has 14 points in his last 15 games with six of those points being goals. Jason Pomminville leads Buffalo in goals with 25 and points with 63. Tomas Vanek who is a Panther killer is next with 23 goals and 50 points.
Tyler Myers will be out of the lineup tonight as he serves the second game of a three game suspension for his hit on Montreal forward Scott Gomez. A big reason for Buffalo’s turnaround to the season can be credited to goaltender Ryan Miller. After what could be described as a slow and inconsistent start to the season, Miller is playing some of the best hockey of his career as of late. In his last 11 games Miller is 9-1-2 with a 1.95 GAA. Miller also has five shutouts on the season. Miller is always a tough solve for the Panthers, and they key for Florida will be to get traffic in the crease and take lots of shots. In his last nine games here in Sunrise, Miller is 7-2-0.
This is a crucial matchup with consequences for both teams. The Panthers will be looking to stay in front of their division rivals, and Buffalo is aiming to make the playoffs with a late season surge.
* The Florida Panthers have now been in first place for 105 days this season.
* Jose Theodore has allowed two goals or less in four straight games and 11 of his last 14 since his return from a knee injury.
* Jason Pomminville has 27 points (11g-16a) in 27 games against the Panthers.
* Buffalo is 27-3-2 when allowing two goals or less and 24-4-4 when scoring three or more.
* The Sabres are 12-5-4 since the All-Star break.
* Since Lindy Ruff was named Buffalo’s head coach in 1997, there have been 171 coaching changes in the NHL.
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