Panther Game Day Preview: Habs vs. Cats





New Year’s Eve, hockey, and an old friend.  That’s what’s on tap for tonight as the Montreal Canadiens and former Panther coach and general manager Jacques Martin come to the Bank Atlantic Centre for their first visit of the year and JM’s return.

Uncle Jack who prior to his arrival in Florida had a pretty solid resume for the regular season as Ottawa’s head coach yet was never able to get them deep enough into the playoffs and contend for the Cup.  In his time here the Panthers did not make the playoffs, yet he was still able to get his “dream job” of coaching the Montreal Canadiens where he is today.  Some would say that there were better candidates out there, but Jacques had one advantage over most everyone else.  He could speak french.  Great, if that’s all it takes when my daughter is through with high school in a couple more years she will have completed four years of advanced french.  Maybe we can toss her name into the hat.

In any event, after a bit of a slow start Montreal has been coming on as of late with a revamped roster and getting over injuries, most  notably their best defenceman Andrei Markov.  Markov was injured in the first game of the season and was sorely missed and since his comeback the Habs have been playing much better. Coincidence?  Maybe.

Michael Cammalleri leads Montreal in goals with 19, and scored the 20,000th goal in Canadiens history the other night.  That will be a good bit of trivia info some day.  Cammy has been hot lately with six points in his last six games.  Also playing well and just by coincidence in a contract year is Tomas Plekanec who is the team leader in assists with 36 and points with 45.  Plekanec had the game winner last night, and Brian Gionta who had missed 21 games scored for the first time since early November.

Montreal had been on a five game losing streak prior to starting this seven game road trip, but are now 5-1-0 and they played and beat the Tampa Bay Lightning last night 2-1.  A few things that could go the Panthers way tonight.  It’s the last game of the trip, and Montreal played last night, and it is New Years Eve.  Could be tough to maintain the focus.

While the smurfs smallish Canadiens have had their struggles, they have proven to be quick, skilled, and posses the top power play in the NHL.  That does not bode well for Florida, as Montreal could use it’s speed to expose some of Florida’s defensive deficiencies.  Goaltending has been all over the place with both Cary Price and Jaroslav Halak having played well in spurts and horrible in others.  Lately however both have been playing much better.  Price played last night, so it’s possible that Halak will get the start tonight.

For the Panthers the top line of Weiss, Horton and Frolik has been quiet lately and needs to get some jump back in their game and get some points.  Helping to boost that will be the return of Cory Stillman to the lineup as he returns from missing time with a knee injury.  Stillman will take a spot on the second line with Rhino and Rusty in what coach Pete DeBoer hopes will be a solid second scoring line.  One thing for sure is that since Stillman has been out of the lineup, Rhino has not had the success that he had earlier, as there was some definite chemistry between the two.

Florida is still on the outside looking in regarding the playoffs sitting in the twelveth spot in the Eastern Conference.  Tough games coming up on the schedule and Florida must prove that they can beat the tougher teams.  Coming off a lackluster performance Sunday night against the Bruins where they lost 2-1, Florida needs to play with more determination, hunger and finish.

The cooling off of the top line is not a good sign and with tonight’s game as important as it is, scoring first and staying out of the penalty box are going to be the keys to this one.  Won’t be there myself, although if someone has tix and can’t go, shoot me an email.  Otherwise, this game is normally a sellout or pretty close to it as the visitors from the North almost make it seem like we’re playing at the Bell Centre instead of the Bank Atlantic Centre.

With all the hype of JM returning and Montreal playing well, this game should be a good one and the Panthers should be up for it. Yet I’m not all that confident going into it.  Just a feeling.

If you’re going to the game, enjoy yourself, if not and you’re watching on TV, have fun, but most of all have a safe but fun New Years Eve.

Thanks for reading.