NEW YORK RANGERS: 19-19-2 (40 PTS.) vs. FLORIDA PANTHERS: 15-20-5 (35 PTS)
GAME DAY SONG: New York City Serenade (live from Rome) Bruce Springsteen and The E Street Band
The Florida Panthers hope to close out the 2013 year on a positive note with a win this evening and erase what’s been a forgettable 2013. In the middle of a five game homestand which started off with two losses at the hands of division rivals Tampa Bay and Detroit, the Cats rebounded very nicely with a 4-1 victory on Sunday against the Montreal Canadiens. That win ended a three game losing streak which was preceded by a five game winning streak. Despite the inconsistency this year, the Panthers are 8-4-0 in their past dozen games.
It’s likely going to continue this way for the balance of the season for Florida based on the roster of players that they have and the competition that they face, especially in the tough Atlantic Division they are now part of. There are two areas of concern for Florida this season that have put them in the position they’re in. In forty games the Panthers have only scored 95 goals. I’m certainly no math whiz, but a team isn’t going to be very successful overall when averaging 2.375 goals per game. Brad Boyes leads the team in goals with nine, yet has only one goal in the last 17 games he’s played, not counting one game where he was a healthy scratch. The offence has also suffered from a very anemic power play, which finds players taking shots that are no where close to being on goal. The power play sits at the bottom of the league with a 11.2% success rate.
On defence, while the Panthers have played much better since Peter Horachek took over, Florida has still given up 128 goals on the season. The penalty kill is also last having killed only 73.2% of the chances against them. So while there’s work to be done in both zones, things have been better for the past 6 weeks, yet unfortunately we can’t remove the first month of the season. Brian Campbell states what has been a common theme in Florida:
“We gotta string together as many (wins) as we can get here, so hopefully we can get a good start going and finish it off with a couple more at home here,” Campbell said.
If you’re looking for a bright spot in Florida, look no further than rookie center Aleksander Barkov. He’s not flashy, but he’s steady and plays like he’s been here a couple years already. He’s made very few rookie type mistakes in his young career, and looks like he’s only going to get better. He’s made some of the smoothest passes you’ll ever see, and his hockey sense puts many vets to shame. Just wait to see how good he’s going to be when the Panthers get a real finisher to play on his wing! Barkov has three goals and five assists in his last nine games, and is first among rookies in face-off percentage.
The Rangers are having struggles of their own and sit at .500 on the season. Goaltender Henrik Lundqvist has struggled so far with a 11-15-2 record, but may have broken out of his funk with a 4-3 victory against Tampa on Sunday night. Lundqvist had previously sat out the three games before Sunday, giving way to backup Cam Talbot who has a record of 8-3-0. Not that there could possibly be a goalie controversy in New York, but it looked as though one could have been brewing. Look for Lundqvist to be in goal tonight, as he’s 6-3-0 in the last nine games against the Panthers with a stingy 1.57 GAA.
Leading the Rangers in points is Mats Zuccarello who has 28 (9G-19A), followed by Brad Richards who has 27 on 9 goals and 18 helpers. Rick Nash who has only played 23 games this season is still looking for his groove with only 7 goals on the season. The goals leader for the Rangers is Chris Kreider who has 1o.
The Panthers would do themselves a huge favor by staying out of the penalty box tonight. Not only because they have the worst killing unit in the league, but the Rangers have scored on 8 of their past 23 man advantages in the last six games. Florida has been above average this year when playing five on five. It’s when they’re a man short that they get themselves in trouble. Not giving up a quick (early) goal is another detail that Florida needs to adhere to. When you’re offensively challenged it’s difficult to fight back night after night, and puts a lot of strain on your overall game.
Remember, tonight’s game starts at 5:00 P.M. Enjoy the final game of 2013, and have a very Happy New Year.
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