Game Day Preview: Another Big Test As Panthers Take On Stars.


FLORIDA PANTHERS 8-5-3 (19 PTS.) vs. DALLAS STARS 11-5-0 (22 PTS.)




Two teams facing off against each other finding them with their best start in years.  Five for the Dallas Stars and fifteen for the Florida Panthers.  The Panthers will make their only trip into Dallas tonight to take on a Stars team that has surprised everyone in the NHL as they sit second in the rugged Western Conference, two points behind the Chicago Blackhawks.  The Stars are sporting an 11-5-0 record and are 6-1-0 at home.  The Panthers are 7th in the Eastern Conference, and need to win to keep pace with teams like Tampa, Montreal, New Jersey, and yes Ottawa who are all two points behind.

Dallas is returning home from a four game road trip where they went 2-2-0 winning the first two games against the Carolina Hurricanes and the Washington Capitals with identical 5-2 wins.  The Stars followed those up with losses against Pittsburgh (3-1) and Detroit (5-2).  Even with those two losses, the Stars are off to their best start since 2006-2007 when they opened the first 16 games with a 12-4-0 record.  An interesting note in the two losses is that the Stars opened the scoring in each game, were tied after two periods, but have been outscored 5-0 in the third period.  Also of note in the last four games the Stars have only scored twice in the final frame.

The Stars are led offensively by Loui Eriksson with nine goals, and by Jamie Benn with 14 assists and 19 points.  A few surprises offensively for this Stars team has found offensive output from some unlikely sources.  Defenceman Sheldon Souray who was virtually picked off the scrap heap has four goals and 9 assists, and has turned his fading career completely around showing everyone in the NHL that he can still be a very valuable player.  Souray spent the entire season last year in Hershey in the AHL as he tried to prove that his career wasn’t over.  A great pickup  by Dallas general manager and recently named Hockey Hall of Famer Joe Nieuwendyck.  Another surprise performer for Dallas has been “role” player Eric Nystrom, who was picked up from Minnesota recently and has provided energy, grit and a few goals already.  Not many players work harder than Eric, and not many players are willing to accept the role of a fourth liner, but Nystrom does it better than most.

In goal Kari Lehtonen appears to finally be ready to show the talent that he was lauded for when he was drafted as the second overall pick in 2002 by the Winnipeg Jets Atlanta Thrashers.  Lehtonen has started all seven home games for Dallas and as won six of them.  Lehtonen who arrived in Dallas in 2009-2010 won the only meeting between these two teams last season 4-1.  Lehtonen is backed up by former Calder Trophy winner Andrew Raycroft.

The Florida Panthers enter tonight’s game following a somewhat sloppy performance against the Philadelphia Flyers Sunday evening, where they lost 3-2.  The Panthers “blew” some golden opportunities including seven power play chances that included a five on three chance.  That two man advantage saw the Panthers give up a penalty shot score when Jason Garrison was called for hooking.  Center Stephen Weiss argued the call and for his efforts, received a game misconduct putting the Panthers two men short, as Jack Skille left the game earlier with an undisclosed injury.  Kevin Dineen made this comment afterwards:

"“I think our composure overall was not great tonight and that was a pretty good example of it, to lose our top forward for the last 10 minutes of the game,” first-year coach Kevin Dineen said of Weiss, who scored in last season’s loss to Dallas. “Without him in the lineup, that’s a pretty big hole.”"

The loss was the fourth straight at home for Florida, and hitting the road for two games could be extremely medicinal as the Panthers have a 6-3-0 road record.  They’ve won their last three road games and have outscored their opponents 13-5 in that span.  Whether it’s a more focused approach, or a more determined mindset, the road seems to be a friendly place for the Panthers.

Florida is still led by Kris Versteeg in goals 8, and points 17, and has provided an offensive spark while on the first line with Stephen Weiss and Tomas Fleischmann.  This line has consistently set the tone and has provided more excitement that we’ve been accustomed to in recent past.  However secondary scoring must keep pace, as when the top line has an off night, the rest of the nine forwards need to contribute.

The Panthers losses seem to have a few common threads.  Sloppy play in the defensive zone, failure to clear the crease, and getting fancy at times when a shot on net is the smarter thing to do than making that one extra pass.  If you go back and look at the losses you’ll see that these three reasons are the culprit.  Losing to teams like the Flyers, Blackhawks, and Buffalo, the Panthers must elevate their play and find that extra gear if they intend to make the postseason.  The games that they’ve lost have been close, but the reasons that they’ve lost them can be found in the three reasons I’ve laid out.

Jack Skille who suffered a lower body injury on Sunday against Philadelphia will not be in the lineup tonight.  Neither will Scottie Upshall who has a lower body injury himself and could be our for some time.  Tim Kennedy has been recalled from San Antonio to hopefully provide some energy, and Evgeny Dadonov will play in his second game of the season after getting his first goal of the year on Sunday in his first game of the 201-2012 campaign.  With Upshall potentially out for an extended period of time, while he wasn’t finding the net as anticipated, he was being counted on for 20-25 goals.  That production will have to come from the likes of Marco Sturm, and a combination of Shawn Matthias and Sean Bergenheim.

Still, we have to be happy with what we’ve seen to this point from the Panthers, but with the talent this team has, we are still hungry for more.  Tonight’s game is yet another in a long line of tests that this roster will be up against.  While there’s really no game that’s an easy win, we’re finding ourselves competing every night, showing the ability to win against anyone if everything clicks.  Tonight is a night that will test our ability.  Even though it’s a non conference game, these two points are just as important as any other in this season long chase.

Scott Clemmensen makes his first appearance of the year for the Panthers after returning from knee surgery.  Kari Lehtonen willbe between the pipes for Dallas.

Nerdy Stats:

* Dallas has won seven consecutive games against the Eastern Conference dating back to last season.

* The Florida Panthers and the San Jose Sharks are the only NHL teams that Sheldon Souray hasn’t scored on.

* Stars captain Brenden Morrow is one point away from 500 in his NHL career.

* The Stars are 6-1-0 in on goals games this season.  The Panthers are 3-2-3.

* The Stars will wear a number 37 decal on their helmuts to honor defenceman, and former Florida Panther Karlis Skrastins who was killed in the Locomotiv plane crash this summer.

* Dallas hasn’t lost a game in regulation when they have the lead after two periods since the 2009-2010 season! Last year they were 24-0-3 when leading after two.

* Stephen Weiss will play in his 574th game as a Florida Panthers, putting him in second place to Radek Dvorak (613) now with Dallas.

* Florida ranks third in the NHL with 10 power play goals on the road.

* Florida defenceman have 48 points so farto lead all NHL teams in points from the blueline.


* Radek Dvorak played in 613 games for the Florida Panthers.

* Joe Nieuwendyck played in 80 games for the Florida Panthers.  He’s now the Stars’ general manager, and won one of this three Stanley Cups while playing in Dallas.  Joe was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame last night.

* Ed Belfour played his final NHL season for Florida, playing 57 games and winning 27.  Belfour won a Stanley Cup in Dallas as well with Nieuwendyck.  Eddie was also inducted into the Hall of Fame last night.

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