Feb 12, 2012; Uniondale, NY, USA; Florida Panthers goalie Jose Theodore (60) makes a save during the first period against the New York Islanders at Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum. Mandatory Credit: Anthony Gruppuso-US PRESSWIRE

GameDay Preview: Islanders vs. Panthers. No Time To Be Cute


NEW YORK ISLANDERS: 30-33-11 (71 PTS.) vs. FLORIDA PANTHERS: 36-24-14 (86 PTS.)

OPPOSITION SITE: EYE ON ISLES

TSN GAMEDAY

GAMEDAY SONG: JUICEBOX-THE STROKES

With eight games remaining in the regular season the Florida Panthers have a four point lead over the Washington Capitals, and are poised to not only win their first division title in the history of the team, but also look to make the playoffs for the first time since Bill Clinton was our President.  Ahhhh, good times a decade ago right?  However, the Panthers have all of a sudden found themselves struggling to score goals, as they have four in their past three games.  While one of those games includes a huge victory over the Philadelphia Flyers, they’ve lost two games at the hands of teams that are preparing their vacation plans (Carolina & Edmonton).

With the New York Islanders coming into town this evening, the Panthers had best be ready to set the tone early against a team that played last night.  Slow starts have doomed them all too often this season.  While I enjoy these earlier starting games on Sunday, apparently the schedules of the players are thrown off kilter a bit,  and I’m hoping that Florida doesn’t meander through the first two periods, and then wake up with 12 minutes remaining.  Kevin Dineen hasn’t exactly been very happy lately and you can tell by these comments:

“There’s no shortcuts right now,” coach Kevin Dineen said. “We’re looking to maybe take a little easier path, to try and take the highway instead of the dirt road and that’s just not going to happen this time of year.”

“We just need to produce more offense,” Dineen told the Panthers’ official website. “Play the game the way it’s supposed to be played.”

While the team seems to be getting shots on goal, the shots are not necessarily testing goaltenders.  Easy saves on shots that are taken at the crest, or the pads, making the goaltenders job quite easy.  It’s time to start driving to the net, creating traffic, and making both the oppositions’ defence and goaltender work.  Plant a body in front, take some shots, and look for tip ins as well as rebounds.  If you’re going to the playoffs, those are the types of goals that you’re going to have to get to win.  Slap shots from either wall that come from just inside the blueline aren’t getting the job done.  Those are the types of plays that earned David Booth a ticket out of town earlier this season.

This is where the “cuteness” comes into play.  We appear to be a mostly pass first team, rather than shoot first.  While things seem different on a TV or from the stands, we don’t know what a player is thinking or what he sees, however I will bet that 95% of the time the better option is to shoot first.  Now don’t go all crazy on me here, but European players for the most part have this pass first mentality that North Americans don’t.  This is the kind of thought process that could be getting us into trouble and rather than be a nice guy, if the opportunity is there take the shot.  We are in the final stages of a playoff race and we need to score goals, not show how nice we can feather a pass.  Especially in a tightly played game.

Luckily our goaltending and defence has been playing at their best this last stretch and that would also include the recent five game winning streak.  Jose Theodore is at the top of his game, and while I think we’ll see Scott Clemmensen at least twice in the next two weeks, he’s filled in quite well also when called on.  But you can’t ask your goaltenders to give up only one goal a night.  The offence needs to pick it up.

Kris Versteeg has not been the same player that he was before his injury.  He has no points in his last four games, and has bounced from the top line to the third line at times.  From what I see, and I’ve seen Kris play a lot going back to his time in Chicago, he’s trying to do too much.  He is a very creative player, and has good moves and his quickness and hockey sense are his best attributes.  But, right now he’s trying to do everything he can with the puck, and he should stop.  Focus on shooting, going to the net and getting to the dirty areas.  That is what he’s good at.  When you see him try to carry the puck across the blue line between defencemen,  or make that drop pass to a player that may or may not be there, he’s getting away from his game.  Obviously he’s pressing, and we don’t need him to.

Fortunately Tomas Fleischmann has continued his steady play.  He now leads the team in goals with 23 and has helped to  generate most of the offence lately.  He, along with players like Wojtek Wolski, Mikael Samuelsson and Tomas Kopecky are going to have to chip in and contribute.

The New York Islanders are a team that we best not take lightly despite the fact that they’re out of the playoff hunt.  With some gifted offensive players like John Tavares, Matt Moulson and P.A. Parenteau, this team has the ability to score.  They are also dangerous because they have no pressure right on themselves right now.  There are a few players playing for contracts, and a few players wanting to show that they belong, this is a team that on paper we should beat, but nothing should be taken for granted.  Speaking of contracts, for all the moaning that some did after Michael Grabner’s rookie season where he scored 34 goals and was awarded a five year contract, he has totaled only 16 so far this season.  That inconsistency we don’t need.

The Islanders have seven players who have goals in double digits led by Moulson’s 33.  But defensively is where this team  struggles.  They’ve given up 222 which is 25th in the entire NHL, and some of the +/- stats look pretty gaudy.  It’s mostly from mistakes that they make with the puck, and that’s what other teams are capitalizing on, and the Panthers should be no different.  With a team like the Islanders you need to take the play to them and challenge them.  If we can tightly forecheck and not give their offensive weapons any space to be creative, we can expose their weaknesses.

It’s an important game that Florida must have.  Washington plays as well tonight, and we can’t worry about what they do and must take care of our end first.  Get the job done in regulation, no messing around with an extra hockey tonight.

Nerdy Notes/Numbers:

* The Panthers lead the series 39-24-8-6.

* Since 2007 the Panthers are 15-3-2 against the Islanders, picking up points in 17 of 20 games.

* The Panthers have been in first place for 114 days, including 29 in a row.

* The Panthers are 5-1-2 in their last eight games, allowing two goals or less in all seven games where they have a point.

* Jose Theodore is 4-1-2 in his last seven games, allowing just 11 goals in that span with a .947 SV%. He’s allowed two         goals or less in 13 of his 17 appearances since returning from a four-game absence (knee) on Feb. 12. He’s also 7-3-2 in his last 12 games and 22-14-8 this season, and his .921 SV% is his best season number since earning a .931 SV% in 2001-02 with Montreal.

* The Islanders are 4-4-3 in the second game of back to backs.

* John Tavares has a career high 74 points so far.  The first Islander player to score 70 or more since Alexei Yashin back in 2001-2002 when he had 75.

* Only three players age 21 or younger have posted at least 74 points or more before Tavares: Mike Bossy, Bryan Trottier and Denis Potvin.

* The Islanders lead the league in blocked shots with 1,242.  Matt Martin has 340 of those.

* John Tavares has assisted on 21 of Matt Moulson’s 33 goals.

* When Mark Streit leads the Islanders with time on ice during a game their record is 8-21-3.

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Thanks for reading.  We welcome your comments and opinions.

Don’t forget about our Road Watch this Thursday at 8:00 P.M. when the Panthers visit the Minnesota Wild.

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Tags: Featured Florida Panthers John Tavares Kris Versteeg Matt Moulson New York Islanders Pa Parenteau Popular Stop Being Cute Tomas Fleischmann