Game Day Preview: Panthers vs. Sharks. With Bite!


FLORIDA PANTHERS: 13-8-4 (30 PTS.) vs. SAN JOSE SHARKS: 14-7-1 (29 PTS.)

GAME TIME: 10:30 P.M. Eastern



I have to say I enjoy when the Florida Panthers take on teams from the Western Conference.  While the games can sometimes be late, I love seeing the physical play of the teams versus the more defensive and trapping style of many Eastern Conference clubs.  Tonight against the San Jose Sharks won’t be much different that Thursday night’s late affair, as the Sharks present a team that is big, physical, and skilled.  It’s going to take the same kind of effort against the Sharks tonight, as they’ll present some of the same obstacles the Kings did, only this time the Panthers are going to have to find the back of the net more than once.

The good news is that it appears that leading scorer Kris Versteeg should be in tonight’s game after sitting out Thursday from his broken nose, and some other affects from the non suspended hit from Derek Joslin in Tuesday’s game against Carolina.  The Panthers will need Versteeg to not just energize the top line, but to make the power play more effective.  The downfall against Los Angeles, besides the fact that Jonathan Quick was superb,was the ineffectiveness of the power play.  After failing in six chances,  the unit now is 4 for it’s last 45 in the last 10 games.  Time to remove the ghost of Jim Hulton, and whoever has the voodoo doll, please get to work.

Even though the Panthers tossed 42 shots at Quick many of them were not of the high percentage variety.  The Panthers matched L.A.’s physical play with Sean Bergenheim being one of the most noticeable, especially with his hit on public enemy Mike Richards (who is now on IR with an upper body injury),  the Panthers played a very complete game, which despite the loss impressed the coach:

"“We thoroughly outplayed them,” Panthers first-year coach Kevin Dineen said. “They were trying to run around and chase us and hack us and slash us. When you are getting outplayed as badly as they were, that’s the response. We walk out of here feeling very good about the way we played.”"

Speaking of injuries, give full marks to defenceman Dmitry Kulikov for returning as quickly as he did with that deep laceration to his leg.  Another indication that this team’s toughness is beginning to show from top to bottom.  Mikael Samuelsson is about a week away from returning, and hopefully both Marcel Goc and Matt Bradley are getting closer.

Playing against San Jose hasn’t been a bad thing recently as the Panthers have won three straight against the Sharks who always play a tough game no matter who their opponent is.  The area that would make you have concern is their size with players like Joe Thornton, Ryan Clowe and Douglass Murray.  However this year’s version of the Panthers and their speedy forwards will cause a problem for the Sharks, as it will be interesting to see if they can keep up.

A perennial Stanley Cup favourite, the Sharks are the Western Conference’s version of the Washington Capitals.  Excellent season records, but have the uncanny ability to never get to the big dance.  Joe Pavelski is the leading goal scorer with 11, and Thornton leads in points with 21, it’s obvious the Sharks have a few players that can score.  Patrick Marleau, youngster Logan Couture, and Martin Havlat are other players that can be dangerous.  Havlat who only has one goal so far after missing games with injury is in his first year in San Jose, and can break out anytime, so don’t take him lightly. The top line of Marleau, Thornton and Pavelski has only one goal and two assists in their last four games, and is either due to break out, or continue their funk.

I look up and down this Sharks roster  and see a lot of size, and hard nosed players.  While they might not be the fastest team in the league they are quick, and play a hard game.  Their defence is punishing and with the addition of Brent Burns who came over from Minnesota in the Dany Heatley trade, the Sharks D is one of the most talented in the league.  The Panthers forwards will have to match their play, and finish their checks in the offensive zone.

In goal, Antti Niemi is 5-2-0 in his last seven games with a 1.71 GAA.  He has the ability to steal games, and when he’s on, he’s on.  A streaky goaltender who won a Stanley Cup with the Blackhawks, however can be beat as Versteeg, TomKop, and Soupy know.  Shoot high as Niemi goes down often, leaving the top of the net open (trust me on this one).  Unfortunately unless the Panthers chase Thomas Griess, we won’t know if my analysis is correct, and Niemi sits tonight in favor of Griess.

Back to the Panthers for a minute, secondary scoring has been an issue all season, but we are starting to see some offence generated by Shawn Matthias, and if Bergenheim can get on a hot streak, things will be a bit more relaxing as I’m sure some of the Cats are beginning to hold their sticks tightly.   And once again, as I’ve been doing all season, high marks to Jose Theodore for his stellar play in goal.  Without him, Thursday night’s game could easily have been 5-1, but Jose said “no way” numerous times.  He seems to be in quite the groove, but will apparently give way to Scott Clemmensen tonight who will make his second start of the season for the Panthers.

After tonight the Panthers come home to Sunrise and face the Washington Capitals on Monday.  But first things first, a win tonight will make the long plane ride home very relaxing!

Nerdy Notes:

* Dan Boyle of the Sharks is second in the NHL among all defenceman in points with 316 since the lockout ended.

* Patrick Marleau has played in 1,057 career games, all with the Sharks.

* Since his debut in 1997, no NHL player has more points than Joe Thornton’s 1,022.

* Flash has points in 15 of his last 19 games.

* Panther defencemen have 63 points combined.  Good enough for 3rd in the NHL behind Vancouover (65) and Toronto (64).

* In 57 games against the Sharks Ed Jovanovski has 27 points (5 g,-22-a’s).


* Dan Boyle played parts of four seasons with the Panthers early in his career. His high risk game at the time bought him a ticket out of town.

* Marco Sturm was originally drafted by the Sharks in 1996 (21st overall).  Sturm played eight seasons in San Jose, his best in 2002-2003 when he had 48 points.

* Brian Campbell played 20 games for San Jose in 2007-2008 before signing with Chicago that following summer.  Plan on hearing some boos when he touches the puck.

* Marcel Goc was drafted by San Jose in 2001 (20th overall). Goc played four years there before going to Nashville.

* Matt Bradley was also drafted by the Sharks in the fourth round in 1996 (102).  Bradley played for three seasons in San Jose before going to Pittsburgh for one.

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