Feb 27, 2012; Winnipeg, MB, CAN; Edmonton Oilers forward Jordan Eberle (14) puts one past Winnipeg Jets goalie Ondrej Pavelec (31) during the third period at the MTS Centre. Edmonton wins 5-3. Mandatory Credit: Bruce Fedyck-US PRESSWIRE

Game Day Preview: Oilers vs. Panthers. Nothing Is Given

 EDMONTON OILERS: 29-36-9 (67 PTS.) vs. FLORIDA PANTHERS: 36-24-13 (85 PTS.)




Despite their five game winning streak coming to an end at the hands of the Carolina Hurricanes on Thursday night, the Florida Panthers remain in good standing to win their first ever division title in the Southeast division.  While their four point lead over the Washington Capitals remains slim, the Panthers will look to this weekend’s games against a couple of the weaker teams in the NHL to create some distance.  That is a scarry thought since both Edmonton tonight, and the New York Islanders on Sunday present themselves as spoilers, playing with zero pressure.  Florida needs to be up to the task at hand, and not take either of these games for granted.

Four points are on the line, and for me it’s going to be unacceptable to not gobble up all four of those.  In addition the next three games after this homestand come against teams with losing records, Montreal, Minnesota  and Columbus.  The good thing is, that the Panthers are almost as helathy as they’ve ever been this season.  Scottie Upshall has returned, and Matt Bradley and Jack Skille are the only players on the injured list.  That makes for some healthy competition for spots, and Kevin Dineen will be able to “tinker” with the lineup if anyone isn’t performing at a top level.  It’s been indicated that for tonight’s game against the Oil, that Mike Santorelli, Marco Sturm and Jerred Smithson will be the healthy scratches.  Obviously things could change as we thought Jose Theodore was starting against Philadelphia and Scott Clemmensen did instead.

The Panthers who indeed looked tired against Carolina will hopefully be well rested for tonight’s match, and hopefully have cleaned up two areas of their game.  Sloppy defense, and penalties.  We don’t need to be short handed against a talented offensive team like Edmonton.  The good news is that in returning home the Panthers have won their last five contests in the Bank Atlantic Center, and have outscored the opposition 20-8.  Jose Theodore has been brilliant at home all year, and in the last five games his GAA is 1.57.

Tomas Fleischmann continues to add to his career high point total, and is peaking again at the right time.  Having cooled off earlier in the new year, Flash now has three goals and three assists in his last seven games.  In addition the secondary scoring that we’ve been clamoring for is coming from Mikael Samuelsson who has five points in his last five games.  The line of Sammy, Sean Bergenheim and Marcel Gaaaawwwwch Goc has been outstanding since the All-Star break.

The not so good news is that Florida has dropped three in a row against Edmonton at home, and that includes a forgettable game for me when the Panthers held a 4-1 lead going into the third period, only to lose 5-4 in a shootout.  I was to say the least enraged and let everyone who was within an ear shot of me know it.!  The Oilers have also taken six of the last seven meetings between the two clubs and have outscored the Panthers 22-12 in that time.  Hopefully history doesn’t repeat itself, as the Panthers can ill afford to slip up on this one.

The Oilers while talented with some gifted young players will miss the playoffs for the sixth year in a row as they were officially eliminated on Thursday when they lost to Tampa 3-2 in a shootout.  In a hockey hotbed like Edmonton six years is boderline suicidal.  However they’ve earned points in each of their last five games going 3-0-2, and that includes a huge win over the Nashville Predators by a score of 6-3.  As we all know, an inconsistent team like this can be dangerous, and can look like a playoff caliber team on any night.  But looks are deceiving and like Panther teams of the past, this Oilers one has to work hard for sixty minutes every night, and be almost perfect.

The leading scorer for Edmonton is Jordan Eberle who has 32 goals and 38 assists for 70 points.  Taylor Hall and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins round out the top three.  Hall and Nugent-Hopkins represent their two recent top picks and are the future of the team.  Sam Gagner who’s father Dave played briefly here in Florida had a small moment of glory earlier this season when he piled up eight points against the Blackhawks one night, and went on a 14 point tear over a four game span.  He has since come back down to earth, but has three points in his last two games.  We don’t get to see Hall tonight who is sidelined with a concussion.

The Oilers in general are a young team with some veteran blood sprinkled in.  Nikolai Khabibulin and the young Devan Dubnyk have been sharing the goaltending, and Ryan Smyth along with Shawn Horcoff are the veteran leaders.  Now having played last night, you might think that they have tired legs.  The key is not to take this team for granted and get an early lead ans set the tone for 60 minutes.  We have a lot on the line here, and a good start is crucial for Florida.

Nerdy Notes/Numbers:

* Both Florida and Edmonton have averaged the same amount of shots against per game: 30.7.

* The Panthers have lost 322 man games to injury this season.

* The Panthers are 5-1-1 in their last seven games, allowing more than two goals only once in that span.

* The Panthers have been in first place for 111 days this season, including a string now of 26 days in a row.

* Brian Campbell is second among all defenceman with 49 points.  Also second in average TOI with 26:49.

* The Panthers are 28-2-4 when scoring at least three goals.

* Oiler goaltender Devan Dubnyk is 12-8-2 in 2012 and has started the last five games.

* The Oilers have recorded five hat tricks this season:  Ales Hemsky, Hall, Ryan Jones, Ganger and Nugent-Hopkins.

* Edmonton and Florida have made it to the shootout twice with the Oilers winning both.

Thanks for reading.  We welcome your comments and opinions.

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Tags: Edmonton Oilers Florida Panthers Jose Theodore Ryan Nubent-hopkins Ryan Smyth Taylor Hall

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