Anaheim Ducks (15-3-1) at Florida Panthers (3-11-4)
The Florida Panthers face a tough test tonight when they take on the Anaheim Ducks, one of the leagues best teams. The Ducks’ 31 points are tops in the NHL and they are on a league best five game winning streak. The Panthers on the other hand are winless in their last nine and with 10 points they are tied with the Edmonton Oilers for the second lowest point total in the league ahead of only the lowly Buffalo Sabres who have seven points.
What happens when an unstoppable force meets an extremely movable object? That looks to be the scenario the Panthers face tonight and it seems unlikely that the Panthers will be able to halt their current losing streak. Panthers fans can find hope in the news that Ducks star Ryan Getzlaf will be out of the lineup tonight as he will miss his second straight game with an upper body injury. Getzlaf’s absence leaves a big hole in the Ducks’ offense as his 22 points are tops on the team (10 goals, 12 assists).
With Getzlaf out of the lineup, the Panthers will focus their defensive efforts on the Ducks other star Corey Perry who has a team high 11 goals this season to go with his ten assists.
The Panthers, who are coming off a winless three game road trip, play tonight in Florida before embarking on their longest road trip of the season. The five-game trip will see the Panthers take on exclusively Western Conference teams. The trip starts Friday in Minnesota and also includes stops in Colorado, Vancouver, Edmonton and Calgary.
The Panthers are still looking for their first win under new head coach Peter Horachek. The team lost 3-2 in Ottawa on Saturday in Horachek’s debut and then lost Sunday in New York 4-3 to the Rangers. The Panthers are pushing a month with their current losing streak. Their last win came on October 19th against the Minnesota Wild.
If the Panthers are going to surprise the Ducks tonight, expect Nick Bjugstad to play a big role in the game. Bjugstad has played exceptionally well over the last two games and the 21-year-old seems to be maturing right before our eyes. With a goal against the Senators and an assist Sunday against the Rangers, Bjugstad now has a three game point streak in progress. The 6’4″ Bjugstad has been using his size to his advantage and he seems to be figuring out just how hard it is for opponents to dispossess him when he shields the puck with his big frame. He has been playing on a line with Jonathan Huberdeau and Tomas Fleischmann and the trio is rapidly becoming Horachek’s best option.
Here is how I think the Panthers will lineup tonight against the Ducks:
Horachek may elect to go with Mike Mottau on defense tonight as the 35-year-old was called up from the Rampage yesterday to replace the demoted Ryan Whitney. If Mottau gets in the lineup I think it will be in place of Matt Gilroy. Mottau does not have the offensive edge to his game that Gilroy has but he is a better defender which the Panthers may need against the high-scoring Ducks.
Tim Thomas will get his third straight start since coming back from injury Saturday in Ottawa. In net for the Ducks will be Frederik Anderson. The 24-year-old Anderson has been excellent for the Ducks this season compiling a 6-0-0 record a 1.41 GAA and a .952 Sv%.