Tampa Bay Lightning (6-6-1) at Florida Panthers (4-6-3)
The battle for Florida continues this afternoon, 3 pm, at the BB&T Center pitting the struggling Tampa Bay Lightning against the struggling Florida Panthers. Tampa Bay has suffered an abrupt downward spiral; after winning six of their first seven, the Lightning have dropped six straight picking up only one point during that span. Their once-firm grasp on the Southeast Division lead has evaporated and the Lightning now sit in second place with 13 points behind the piping hot Carolina Hurricanes. Tampa is only two points ahead of the rest of the division as Winnipeg, Washington and Florida are all tied with 11 points.
Florida would love to get two points tonight after failing to do so the past three games. The Panthers offense will need to show up tonight especially against a high powered Lightning scoring machine. In their last three games, the Panthers have squeezed a five goal outpouring between two zero goal efforts.
The Lightning won 5-2 in the teams only previous meeting this season. The game, which took place in Tampa, was the fifth loss of a five game losing streak for the Panthers, and while the Cats have not been stellar lately, they are playing better than they were while the Lightning, who were cruising at the time of the victory, are now reeling.
Despite having lost six in a row, the Lightning still have the highest scoring offense in the league, averaging 3.77 goals per game. (NHL.com) Florida meanwhile is allowing a league worst 3.62 goals per game, not a good sign for the Panthers, especially since the Lightning will be desperate for a win today.
Players to Watch:
The Lightning offense is being led by the usual suspects Steven Stamkos and Martin St. Louis, and as usual if the Panthers are to pick up a victory they need to minimize the damage done by Tampa Bay’s top scorers.
New goaltending acquisition Anders Lindback sat out Thursday’s game with an illness. Whether or not he will be back tonight is still up in the air but Lightning head coach Guy Boucher said Lindback was doing much better. (Source)
I’m pegging Shawn Matthias as a player to do some damage tonight against the Lightning. With Versteeg sitting out Thursday’s game, Matthias saw some minutes on the Panthers top line. While he only has two goals this season, Matthias is tied for third on the team in shots with 29. Matthias is a player whose game is easy to love. He is the definition of a hard nosed player. He throws his body around and shoots the puck whenever he gets a chance something head coach Kevin Dineen, who preaches about taking the “cute” out of player’s games, probably loves. Even if the Panthers are not getting anything going on offense, Matthias always seems to find a way to get a good scoring chance in. I think today some of those scoring chances reach the back of the net.
Versteeg’s status for todays game is unclear after he sat out Thursday. It did not appear that the injury was serious and I would expect him to play today. Ed Jovanovski who injured his knee in the Jan. 29th meeting between the Panthers and Lightning will be out for at least another two weeks. Scottie Upshall and Sean Bergenheim still remain out.
- The game today was moved to 3:00 pm so it could be aired on the NHL Network. This will be the first nationally televised game for the Panthers. It also means the game will be blacked out on NHL game center so I am going to have to find an online stream (one of the many drawbacks of not owning a TV).
- Jose Theodore played exceptionally well in the Panther’s 1-0 overtime loss to Montreal. Is this the start of a hot streak for Theo? The Panthers sure hope so. Inconsistent goaltending has been a plague this season and is one of the many reasons for Florida’s poor start.
- Interesting note on Sean Bergenheim, this report from the Sun-Sentinel claims Bergenheim has filed a medical grievance with the Panthers and the issue will go to an independent arbitrator. Bergehnheim has been suspended without pay, a common occurrence when a player is injured during a lockout, but what exactly the issue is, is unclear.
- Lets Go Panthers! GET IT ON!!
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