The Florida Panthers look to build off their big 4-1 victory over the Toronto Maple Leafs, and put issue a statement to their new divisional opponent, the Detroit Red Wings.
Even with a Red Wing victory, the Panthers will still win the season series but a win for Florida would give them four wins in five contests against the boys from Motown.
The Panthers spread out the scoring in their last contest, as only Brian Campbell registered more than one point among the four goals they scored.
The Red Wings are coming off a 2-0 shutout victory over the Vancouver Canucks after dropping an entertaining game on national television to the Washington Capitals.
Pavel Datsyuk is expected to return to the lineup for Detroit, but if the Wings want to win, they may need to turn to newcomer Daniel Alfredsson – who has the most experience, and success, against the Panthers. Over his career, ‘Alfie’ has scored 60-points in 62-games against Florida.
Jimmy Howard should get the start for the Red Wings, as the status of Jonas Gustavsson is uncertain. Gustavsson was forced to leave their previous game due to dizziness. Howard established himself as one of the better goalies last playoffs, but injuries have allowed him to only play 32-games and prevented him from gaining too much momentum.
It didn’t stop him from being recognized, as he will be traveling with team-USA to Sochi for the upcoming Olympics where he should take on the role as the third goaltender.
In two career games against the Panthers, Howard is 1-0-1 with a .945 SV% and a 1.38 GAA.
Tim Thomas should get the start for Florida, who didn’t have a heavy workload in his last contest. His numbers against Detroit have been far from impressive – an overall record of 7-8-2 with a 3.01 GAA and .904 SV%. Of course, Florida has had their way with Detroit this year, so something is clicking.
Players to Watch – Danny DeKeyser
The Red Wings’ blueline has been searching for an identity since long time captain Nicklas Lidstrom retired. They may have found a building piece in DeKeyser, an undrafted college signing from a year ago, and hometown kid.
Known for his offensive prowess, DeKeyser has been used in a more expanded role this season, seeing over two minutes of penalty kill time this season. His 11-points is third among Detroit defenseman and his 21:08 of overall ice time per game is good for the same place.
A lot of focus will be on Henrik Zetterberg and the returning Datsyuk – which makes a player like DeKeyser who can handle the puck in the offensive zone that much more dangerous.
Players to Watch – Nick Bjugstad
Bjugstad has been enjoying a great season this season, with 22-points on the season. The former first round pick has been showing glimpses of the dominating power forward the Panthers thought he could become, especially of late.
While the Red Wings defensive group all measure at a reasonable height, they aren’t overly physical. They rely on positioning to play defense. This gives Bjugstad a perfect opportunity to play ‘wrecking ball’ with them.
Another note on their defense, they are all left-handed – meaning dumping the puck to the player on their off side and then pressuring them could lead to some turnovers.
In four games against the Red Wings this season, Bjugstad has scored two goals, and he may have to come up with another one if the Panthers are going to build a winning ‘streak’.
Anthony Murphy is the Editor at The Rat Trick. You can follow him on Twitter @AMurphyTFC.