Nov 25, 2013; Tampa, FL, USA; Tampa Bay Lightning defenseman Mark Barberio (8) defends New York Rangers center Dominic Moore (28) during the third period at Tampa Bay Times Forum. New York Rangers defeated the Tampa Bay Lightning 5-0. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

Preview: New York Rangers At Florida Panthers

New York Rangers: 12-12-0 (24 points) at Florida Panthers: 7-13-5 (19 points)

When the New York Rangers take on the Florida Panthers tonight at 7:30 p.m. at the BB&T Center, they will be facing a Panther team that is much different than the team they beat 4-3 at MSG a couple weeks ago.

The Panthers’ roster has undergone some minor tweaks since these teams last met, Dylan Olsen and Jimmy Hayes both came over in the deal that sent Kris Versteeg to the Blackhawks, but the big change for the Panthers is, they are a team that is starting to pick up some wins.

When the Panthers played the Rangers back on November 10, they were in the midst of an eight game losing streak, they had fired their head coach just two days earlier and they were playing only their second game under interim head coach Peter Horachek and their 39 year old goalie was playing in just his second game since returning from a lower body injury. The Panthers lost that game in New York and their losing streak stretched to nine.

That, however, was as far as the streak would get as the Panthers defeated the Anaheim Ducks two days later, a win that started a stretch of seven games in which the Panthers have picked up four wins and nine out of a possible 14 points. So tonight when the these two teams meet for the second of their three game season series, the Rangers can expect to see a much more confident and consistent Panthers team.

Tonight’s game will be second of a five game home stand for the Panthers. Florida got the home stand started off with a 3-1 win over the Philadelphia Flyers on Monday, a game in which Sean Bergenheim scored his first two goals since the 2012 playoffs and Tim Thomas stopped 38 of 39 shots faced.

Thomas’ play in net has been a big part of the Panthers recent change of fortune. Thomas has put up a .920 save percentage in nine games since returning from a lower body injury a huge improvement from the .877 Jacob Markstrom put up playing in Thomas’ stead. In the nine games since Thomas returned, the Panthers are 4-4-1.

The Rangers have gone through some early season struggles of their own. Due to renovations being made at MSG, the Rangers started their season on a nine game road trip. New York stumbled through the trip with a 3-6 record but have gone 9-6 since to bring their record to .500. Their 24 points are good for third place in the weak Metropolitan Conference.

New York has had trouble scoring this season. They are tied with the Hurricanes with the second lowest goals per game in the league averaging just 2.00 per game. They are led in the scoring department by Brad Richards (6-10-16) and Derek Stepan (5-11-16).

Tomas Kopecky, Ed Jovanovski, and Matt Gilroy are all on IR and will not play in tonight’s game. Jesse Winchester will also be out again with injury. Here is the lineup I think the Panthers will go with tonight against New York:








Tim Thomas

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