Game Day Preview: Rangers vs. Panthers. The Feast Continues


NEW YORK RANGERS: 10-6-3 (23 PTS.) vs. FLORIDA PANTHERS: 11-6-3 (25 PTS).




A short time ago as this season was barely under way, I had mentioned that the Florida Panthers had the opportunity to take the area of South Florida sports by storm.  Based on Monday night’s thrilling come from behind victory over the New Jersey Devils, they certainly are doing their part.  And if you aren’t jumping on board to take part in the jubilation, then shame on you cause you’re missing some of the most exciting and energized hockey that’s ever been played by a Panthers hockey team.

For only the second time in their history the Florida Panthers came from behind when trailing 3-0 to score four unanswered goals and end up victorious when they beat the New Jersey Devils and former coach Pete DeBoer Monday night.  Putting that in perspective, when the Panthers have trailed 3-0, their record prior to Monday’s comeback win was 1-292-3. To say that the Panthers are the surprise of the NHL might seem like an understatement to those of us here, but all in all, I do think that many of knew this team was capable of being this good. It’s just refreshing to watch it unfold.  Leading the way for the Florida Panthers is the top line of Stephen Weiss who is flanked by wingmen Tomas Fleischmann and Kris Versteeg.  The three players are in the top 25 in  scoring so far this season, and have put on quite a show for the entire league to see.  Maintaining this pace is going to be a difficult task, but when things are clicking like they are for this trio, it could be a season long “party”. 

The resiliency that this team has shown has pleased not only us fans, but also coach Kevin Dineen who had this to say after the Monday night win:

"“Over a 20-game span, you learn a little bit about your people and about your team and felt that staying the course was a good play and had nothing to do with coaching, it has to do with the quality of players and people that you have here,” Dineen said. “We really came out flat when they scored a couple of goals. We certainly have made some entertaining nights at the Bank Atlantic and tonight will certainly fit right in with that.”"

Tonight’s game against the New York Rangers promises to be just another test for a club that seems to rise to the occasion.  Another Eastern Conference foe, where two points are on the line, and a regulation win is paramount to anything else on this important four game “turkey feast” homestand.  The Rangers have caused fits for Florida recently with New York winning five of the past seven meetings.   Finding a way to reverse that tonight won’t be easy against a John Tortorella coached team.  Jose Theodore who is coming off a very controlled performance against New Jersey after giving up three goals in 12 minutes (all were NOT his fault) has won his previous two starts against the Rangers stopping 70 of 71 shots, including a shutout as a member of the Washington Capitals in 2010, then stopping 41 shots as a member of the Minnesota Wild in march 2011.  His composure as I have said all along is something that the players in front of him have picked up on.  I know many people seem to think that Jacob Markstrom should have replaced Theo on Monday, but you have to give coach Dineen credit for sticking with his guy, which also tells the club, that this is your goaltender tonight.

The Rangers who had won seven games in a row prior to losing 2-0 to Montreal on Saturday night has had four long days to recover from that poor effort.  Marty Biron who started that night in goal lost his first game of the season in four starts, but was not blamed for the loss as coach John Tortorella pointed to the weak offensive performance which saw the Rangers shut out for the first time since mid October against the Edmonton Oilers.  Tortorella who never minces words defended his goaltender, and pointed directly at the rest of the team with this:

"“Don’t look at our goalie, I’ll tell you that,” Tortorella said. “Our whole crew in front of him never had the puck and we were chasing the game. We never caught up to it.”"

New York’s top scorer which should be no surprise is Marian Gaborik who leads the team with nine goals and 16 points.  Brad Richards the big free agent prize of the summer is second with six goals and seven assists for 13 points.  Ryan Callahan is second in goals scored with eight, then it appears that the scoring drops off dramatically for the balance of the club.  There are a number of players who haven’t produced any points for New York, which could be a good thing, or a bad thing as everyone breaks out sooner or later.  Let’s just hope that tonight isn’t the night.

Henrik Lundqvist is 5-1-0 in his last six starts against the Panthers with a swanky 1.16 GAA.  One of the top netminders in the game, King Henri as he is often called has yet to face this offensive juggernaut, and could have his hands full. The Rangers power play unit is also a bit under the gun as they have converted just 12.9 percent of their chances (9 of 70), and that including going 0 for 3 against Montreal Saturday night.  Tortorella looks to start a new streak tonight:

"Trying to get the momentum back on your side – that’s the key. A loss is a loss in Montreal, but it’s the way we played. That’s something we need to cure right away, is play the right way, then you start getting results. You may not win right away – you might struggle a little bit – but you’re always concentrating on playing the right way."

The past history of Florida teams doesn’t seem to matter that much anymore as the club that Dale Tallon has put together, along with the coaching style of Kevin Dineen has created an exciting and winning brand of hockey.

Nerdy Stats:

* The New York Rangers lead the league in the fewest goals allowed (36).

* The Florida Panthers are 16-14-2 all time at home against New York.  29-32-6-6 overall.

* The top line of Weiss, Flash and Versteeg has accounted for 47.9% of the goals scored.

* The Panthers defence still leads the league in total points with 58.

* Jose Theodore is 14-9-3 all time against the Rangers.

* Henrik Lundqvist is 12-6-1 with a 1.80 GAA including five shutouts all time against the Panthers.

* The Rangers power play is 29th on the road converting only 3 of 36 opportunities.

* Derek Stepan is one game away from # 100 in the NHL.  Wojtek Wolski is one game away from 400.

* In 15 career games against the Panthers Marion Gaborik has 5-g and 6-a for 11 points.

* In 46 career games against Florida Brad Richards has 14-g and 26-a for 40 points.


* Steve Eminger played 9 games for Florida in 2008-2009. One goal and one point.

* Goaltender Marty Biron tossed a puck to Little Miss Rat Trick when she was four years old.  Now that’s a connection!

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