By the time tonight’s game has been completed the Florida Panthers will have finished the first quarter of the season, and will have played one of four important home games on the schedule this week. With eight points on the line, it’s vital for the Panthers to grab as many of them as possible. Being greedy and getting at least six of eight would be the ideal situation. However just because these four games are at home doesn’t mean that they’ll be eight easy points to grab. Two of the four games are within the division (Washington and Tampa), while the other two are against Canadian foes (Montreal and Toronto). All four teams have their sites on the post season.
That said tonight’s game against the WashingtonCapitals is crucial. The Panthers are 0-6-0 against Washington in their last six meetings, and must reverse that trend. The 5-0 shellacking on Saturday was an awful finish to what otherwise could be deemed as a successful road trip. Hard to be upset with 5 of 8 points on the road, but the poor effort Saturday night clearly overshadowed the 2-1-1 record. With the home ice advantage the Panthers will need to start each game quickly, and with energy. I’d like to see them start out by laying the first hit or two to set somewhat of a physical tone, and play with energy. At times it appears that these elements of their game are lacking. Couple that with the first goal, and you have the crowd behind you, and your confidence grows stronger.
Throughout this homestand and especially tonight, the goaltending and defence will need to be better. Washington and Tampa Bay have explosive scoring capabilities, while Montreal and Toronto use their team speed to create scoring chances. There may be a game during this homestand that our goaltenders will have to “steal”. With Ed Jovanovski still about a week away from game action, Tyson Strachan remains in the lineup, and Erik Gudbranson will finally play in front of the home crowd for the first time this season. The goal differential however has a spread of 15. Meaning that the Panthers have given up 15 more goals than they’ve scored. At times they’ve looked good, but at others, not so much. Too much traffic in front of the net that’s not being cleared out, and too many odd man rushes with players getting good looks at the goaltender, and being able to finish their play. The Panthers can ill afford this trend to continue, and need to have things cleaned up starting tonight.
Offensively the top two lines have been shuffled with Peter Mueller moving up top with Weiss and Flash, while Kris Versteeg was put with Jonathan Huberdeau and Drew Shore. Something tells me this experiment is overwith, and we’ll see Mueller and Versteeg back in their normal places. Obviously trying to jump start the top line with Mueller was a good thought, but the symmetry that the second line had was nonexistent after the change. No offence to Versteeg, but he plays better with Flash and Weiss. Alex Kovalev who’s sat out the previous two games looks to be back in the lineup tonight as the Panthers are in need of more offence as their 25 goals for is last in the Eastern Conference. George Parros is likely the healthy scratch at least tonight.
Playing games four games in seven days is becoming the norm with the abbreviated schedule. The good news is that there’s no travel involved, and the Cats can focus on gaining their consistency. Montreal which is Thursday’s opponent has had a surprisingly good start out of the gate, but is also looking for more consistency. Coach Michel Therrien has them skating hard and using their speed, but is also toying with their lines.
Tampa with their high powered offence is among the league leaders in goals scored as a team. Everywhere you look on their roster there’s firepower, and Florida is going to have to find a way to slow them down. We can’t get into run and gun because that’s not a game we can win. Tampa is just too good for that. On the plus side for the Panthers however is that Tampa isn’t winning on the road and has a 1-4-0 record. This is a trend the Panthers would like to see continue as Florida is currently chasing this Lightning team for the division lead. Saturday’s game is a 3:00 P.M.
Monday’s game against the Toronto Maple Leafs will close out the homestand, and will likely see a packed house at the BB & T Center. The Leafs have had most of their success playing on the road as they are 6-1-0 so far this season. Phil Kessel who went months without scoring a goal (if you count the offseason and lockout) finally is on the board. Good news for him, but bad news for opponents as he could be settling into one of his offensive streaks. Let’s hope that he doesn’t breakout against the Panthers. The Leafs currently are 4th in the Eastern Conference.
Each of these four games are winnable, yet each of these games will be a challenge. The Panthers will need to be up to the task and play their hardworking style, keeping things simple. When this team gets cute, that’s when they find themselves getting into trouble. Get the puck in deep, make the defence turn their backs to you and chase the puck with you chasing it as well.
Picking up at least six points will give Florida 15 on the year, and will find them closer to a playoff spot, and out of the bottom of the conference. The more points that get away now, the more difficult it will be to make them up later. This is a homestand where Florida will need to seize the opportunity of home ice advantage.
WASHINGTON CAPITALS: 3-8-1 (7 PTS.) vs. FLORIDA PANTHERS: 4-6-1 (9 PTS.)
GAME DAY SONG: Backstreets. Bruce Springsteen & The E Street Band
Game Notes for Tonight:
* After 11 games the Florida Panthers have lost 27 man games to injury.
* Alex Kovalev needs two more assists for 600 in his NHL career.
* Tomas Fleischmann needs two goals for 100 in his NHL career.
* Washington is 5 for 11 on the power play and has scored power play goals in four consecutive games.
* This will be the 106th meeting between the two clubs with Washington leading 49-36-9
Thank you for reading. We welcome your comments and opinions.
Follow the Rat Pack on Twitter: me @TheRatTrick , David Lasseter @davidlasseter , Patrick McLaughlin @PatrickRattrick, Scott Mullin @GreatScottsman, David Rodriguez @davidbub_2, Paige Lewis @RatTrickLewiz Gabby Kiger @gabbykiger, Adam Reid@AdamReid Chrissy Parente @chrissaay44, Justen Rosenberg @justenrosenberg, Lori Carpenter @lmcangel13, and Amanda Land @HockeyGirl2530. Also, please join our FaceBook Fan Page and hit the like button, send us photos, and tell us what’s on your mind.