FLORIDA PANTHERS: 13-17-5 (31 PTS.) vs. OTTAWA SENATORS: 14-16-6 (34 PTS)
Game Day Song: I’m On Fire. Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band
The Florida Panthers are ”on fire” continuing their charge through Canada taking on the Ottawa Senators tonight in hopes of winning their fifth straight game. Should Florida be victorious, they’ll have climbed within three games of .500 on the season. A task that just a few short weeks ago seemed insermountable. Tuesday night’s victory over the “mediocre” Toronto Maple Leafs was just another example of a complete team effort from all 18 skaters, as well as goaltender Scott Clemmensen, who may be the real star behind this streak.
The victory over the Leafs on Tuesday was referred to in many Toronto and Canadian media outlets as embarrassing. Typical reaction to a team that apparently no one has paid attention to that has finally started to put things together, and play as a unit. Both Maple Leafs players and coaches refused to give credit to an opponent that thoroughly outplayed them, finding it easier to place blame on defeat elswhere. Like playing back to back games, which if Ottawa loses tonight, will use as their main reason for taking one on the chin. The Senators played the New Jersey Devils last night, and will of course be tired when this tilt gets under way this evening. Right?
The Panthers who have looked refreshed, and committed for the past couple of weeks are now 6-4-0 in their past 10 games, and appear to have removed the “stink” from their game, and have left their early season struggles behind. We hate to continue to point to the firing of Kevin Dineen as one of the reasons for the turnaround, but it cannot be helped to see how much better the Panthers are playing since. Also, the trade of Kris Versteeg back to Chicago for forward Jimmy Hayes and defenceman Dylan Olsen has also made a tremendous difference. In 11 games Olsen has 8 points, is a plus 3, and has looked exceptional being paired off with Erik Gudbranson. Big G has also looked like a new man since the trade, and is playing with a more assertive mindset, and is looking like the player the Panthers felt they were drafting in 2010. Overall the defence of the team has dramtically improved, and whatever coach Peter Horachek is preaching, the players are buying.
Yet, we cannot ignore the play of veteran backup goaltender Scott Clemmensen. The 36 year old has won his last three starts which included as we all know an outstanding performance in the shootout against the Washington Capitals this past Friday. Whether the team and Clemmensen have continued to feed off that performance isn’t known for sure, but what is known is that Scottie looks very comfortable. A player that has taken a lot of grief whereever he’s played, Clemmensen knows his role, doesn’t complain, and has been ready to answer the bell whenever called on. His role isn’t an easy one, and it is easy to throw darts at him when he’s struggled, but no one has been more professional throughout their career than he has. If he can maintain this pace, it may no longer be necessary for Tim Thomas to start 15 consecutive games when he returns from his lower body injury.
The Senators on the other hand are struggling compared to what their pre season expectations were. The addition of Bobby Ryan following the loss of Daniel Alfredssson hasn’t been enough to compensate for the loss of their long time leader. Even with the career year Clarke MacArthur is having, the Senators are still inconsistent. Their problems seem to be on defence as they’ve allowed the second most goals in the Eastern conference, as both Craig Anderson and Robin Lehner have struggled at times.
Ottawa has won both games these two have played this season, yet those were before the Panthess got their act together. While Florida typically struggles in the Canadian capital, they could find the Senators ripe for picking, and if they play like they have in their past two road games, a fifth consecutive victory isn’t out of the question. A fast start, a quick goal, and continued pressure are the ingredients to success for Florida. In the 3 games that Clemmensen has won during the streak, Florida has limited opponents to under 30 shots against. Tim Thomas was the benefactor of the same in his two victories over the Red Wings, indicating what the Panthers need to do on defence.
The line of Aleksander Barkov, Sean Bergenheim and Brad Boyes combined for 5 points on Tuesday night against the Maple Leafs. That line looks as though they have some serious chemistry, and could be a dangerous trio with a ton of skill. During the game I dubbed them the “Whizz Bang Gang”. Whether that sticks or not, we’ll see, yet I’m trying to be more creative than just Killer B’s.
* Dylan Olsen 7 points in 7 games
* Aleksander Barkov 4 points in 4 games
* Bobby Ryan 6 points in 6 games
* Kyle Turris 4 points in 4 games
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