Resident TLB South Florida Sports expert DolPhanDave checks in with a preview of tonight's game against Buffalo. Check out Dave's excellent coverage of the Miami Heat at Peninsula is Mightier.
A win over the Sabres tonight and the Panthers will hop over 8th place Pittsburgh and move into a tie with Buffalo for the 7 seed. From my perspective, I'm not too worried about the 7th-8th seeds for the Panthers. The way they have been playing for the last month, assuming they keep it up, should get them in the 'thick' of the playoff positions. I can see the Cats climbing up to the 5-6 seed in the East…as long as they keep playing well. Believe me, I'm not the guy who gets all excited when his teams wins a few games and starts talking playoffs and championships, but the way this team has been playing and as consistent as they have looked in this system…I see bigger things then barely squeaking into an 8th seed. You heard it here first.
TONIGHT VS BUFFALO
When looking into both teams I saw a lot of similarities. Both have scored 124 goals on the season, but the Cats have given up 4 less then the Sabres (124-120). Buffalo has great special teams; their power play is 12th at 19.6% and their PK is 3rd, killing off 86.8% of penalties taken.
The Panthers power play is climbing, now up to 20th with a 16.7% success rate. They have scored on 9 of their last 30 power plays. The Panthers have won 5 of their last 7, and Buffalo has won 6 of 8.
Jay Bouwmeester has a 6-game points streak going. The Cats have points in 6 straight. Bo has 4 goals and 3 assists in those 6 games, but unfortunately we still have no idea what the plan for the star defenseman is. Before the season the message I got was that if the Panthers made the playoffs, he would stay. It would be nice to get some information from Bo or the Cats on the subject, but so far nobody is saying much about anything other then winning games and the playoff push.
Nathan Horton is quietly producing, scoring 6 goals and 5 assists in his last 10 games. He assisted on all 3 of the Panthers 2nd period goals, and has been pretty consistent on the scoring side of the past few weeks.
Another player I am very happy to see producing Cory Stillman, who has 2 goals and 4 assists in his last 5 games. It’s no coincidence that the Panthers power play started to score right around the time Stillman returned to the lineup.
Ville Peltonen will be out at least through the All-Star break this weekend. The Panthers return to action next Tuesday when for the 2nd time in 3 weeks, the Cats will host the Flyers after a 6-day layoff. The only difference, this time the Flyers will be a tad rusty as well, also having 6 days between games due to the All-Star break.
The player who hit Peltonen, Evgeny Artyukhin, has been suspended 2 games by the NHL. The knee-to-knee hit could have been avoided (in my opinion) and he is lucky he only got 2 games.
Cory Murphy has been picked up off of waivers by the Tampa Bay Lightning, and may play for them tonight against Dallas. Of all the teams to pick him up…
Nick Boynton will be out of the lineup tonight due to the flu. Noah Welch, who hasn’t played in 9 games, will take his place on D.
No surprise, Tommy Vokoun will start tonight. He was just great in Tampa on Saturday in relief of Craig Anderson, who will get his chances but only if/when Vokoun falters. For now, Tomas is the guy.
Kamil Kreps will return to the lineup for the first time since injuring his shoulder in Tampa on Dec 27th, a 9 game layoff. He will center the Cats 4th line with Anthony Stewart and Nick Tarnasky. Brett McLean will slide up and take Ville Peltonen’s spot on the CPR line.
The Panthers are 5-0-2 in 2009. Happy New Year!
I'm taking Ms. Dave to the Circus tonight...instead of filling my empty seat at the BAC watching this HUGE game. I'll be DVRing, so Donny, hold off on the text until i can catch up, i'll keep you posted.