SUNRISE, FL - NOVEMBER 23: Goaltender Jose Theodore #60 of the Florida Panthers is congratulated by teammates after defeating the New York Rangers on November 23, 2011 at the BankAtlantic Center in Sunrise, Florida. The Panthers defeated the Rangers 2-1. (Photo by Joel Auerbach/Getty Images)
The score wasn't much of an indicator of how this game went, with the Panthers only winning by a goal, but in the end the win is all that mattered. Much like the last game against New Jersey, Florida controlled much of the pace of play in this game, and had the puck on their sticks way more than the opposition, leading to a solid 2-1 victory. The Panthers outshot the Rangers almost two to one, and had it not been for the always-incredible Henrik Lundqvist, this game could've been a blowout. Panthers head coach Kevin Dineen has these guys playing very well right now and they let the Rangers know it, holding them in their own zone for minutes at a time and launching shot after shot at the Ranger net while holding the Rangers to only 20 total shots in the game. A complete effort for the Cats, and one we're becoming used to seeing.
Both teams came out a bit tentative while gauging each other's lineups. The Cats have been hot, as well as the Rangers, so both coaches were probably a little wary. The Panthers got the first powerplay and the Cats quickly converted, with Jason Garrison ripping his now-trademarked blast from the point past Lundqvist for his eighth of the year. Tomas Fleischmann made that play happen with a fantastic cut through the middle of the ice, making the Rangers start to chase a bit more than they would have liked, and helped create a shooting lane for Garrison. After the goal, the Panthers started to smell blood and began attacking the Rangers with some great offensive zone pressure. The Rangers would get the next powerplay though, with Mike Santorelli taking a penalty for cross checking. The Rangers have had one of the worst powerplays in the league this season and Florida didn't have too much trouble killing it off with Jose Theodore making some quality saves, highlighted by a stuff off a cross-ice feed to Derek Stepan. The teams traded chances for the remainder of the period but Florida walked into the dressing room with a 1-0 lead.
Florida came out swinging the second, with Fleischmann making yet another great move down low, feeding Kris Versteeg for his 12th of the season. Shortly after, Michael Repik nearly scored off a rush, but couldn't roof the puck over Lundqvist's pads. The Rangers finally responded shortly after, with Marian Gaborik drawing the attention of nearly every red sweater on the ice, freeing up Stepan to get his fourth of the year, beating Theodore high. This goal was mainly the fault of the skaters, who completely forgot to man up on the rush, but Theodore was way off his angle and could've made the save. Florida went right back to applying pressure, but then took an interference call, with Tim Kennedy getting in the way of Ryan Callahan. The Cats did a great job killing off the majority of the penalty, but took a delay of game penalty with ten seconds left in the first penalty. Didn't matter though, as the Cats PK has been so good as of late that they had very little trouble killing off the second penalty. Florida would then go on the powerplay as Andre Deveaux went headhunting on Fleischmann, hitting him high with an elbow and taking him out of the game temporarily. Deveaux would get a 10 minute illegal check to the head call, giving Florida a five minute powerplay. The Cats had the puck in the Rangers zone for nearly four minutes, but just couldn't beat Lundqvist despite a bevy of shots. The Cats kept up the pressure during the remaining even strength play, basically controlling the pace of the game, but couldn't pull out another goal before the end of the second. The Cats, to their credit, only left up four shots in the second period... not too shabby.
The Rangers got a pretty early powerplay with Sean Bergenheim getting an offensive zone penalty, hitting Steve Eminger in the face with a high stick. No question Kevin Dineen was upset with this one, but the penalty killers bailed out the bad penalty by Bergenheim. Shortly after, the Rangers committed the exact same infraction, with Sean Avery clipping Brian Campbell with a high stick, putting Florida back on the powerplay. The Panthers once again almost never left the Rangers zone during the powerplay, but despite that still couldn't convert. After that the Panthers yet again took over the five on five play, hemming New York in their zone for minutes at a time and absolutely machine-gunning shots at Lundqvist. The Rangers took a hooking call with about seven minutes left in the period, and the Panthers had yet another shot on the powerplay. Florida again dominated puck control but couldn't score, and you started to get the feeling that all these missed opportunities on the man advantage would come back to bite the Cats. After the penalty was up, the Rangers had a couple of great chances on Theodore, but he made some huge saves to keep the Panthers ahead. The Rangers got some urgency to their game in the last three minutes, forechecking much harder and trying to continue the pressure. The Rags pulled Lundqvist to get the extra man out on the ice, but the Panthers were able to hold on and earn the 2-1 victory.
- Deveaux's headshot on Butters has to see him get a serious fine or suspension. No place in the game for that trash, and it's great to know that the NHL has a pretty darn consistent guy in handing out punishment in Brendan Shanahan. Let's hope for a few games for our new buddy Andre.
- Theo didn't have a ton of action in this game, as the Rangers only managed 20 shots, but he did see some high quality chances and was up to the task. Once again, he was big when he needed to be late in the game, and the guys in front of him played hard to keep him out of trouble.
- Tomas Kopecky looked really good throughout the whole game. He's not posting a ton of points like the first line, but he's doing everything well when he's out there and keeps impressing. He saw some powerplay time as well and was effective, generating a few quality shots, and was his usual pesty self on the PK. He has proven to be an invaluable addition to the team.
- Butters is looking just sublime. He was aggressive offensively, played great in the neutral zone, and every time he touched the puck he was a threat. His work in the high slot was the reason Garrison had such a great shooting lane on his powerplay goal. Let's hope the elbow to the face won't slow him down at all; he came back to the game after the injury and looked just fine, if not a bit more tentative.
- Erik Gudbranson had some powerplay time in this game, and boy does he have a shot. If anyone on the team can shoot like Garrison in terms of speed, it's Gudbranson. He nearly had a couple on Lundqvist and if he gets more time on the man advantage like he did against the Rangers, he'll eventually get the first goal of his NHL career. He looked a bit nervous, but the more he plays in those types of situations, the less nervous he'll be.
- Keaton Ellerby likes to take wristers from the point. He needs to survey his options a little better before he does that; he had a few chances in this game to make a better play than a low-percentage shot through little traffic. That said, one of those shots led to an assist on the Versteeg goal, so he's doing something right, eh?
- Despite his somewhat diminutive size, Evgenii Dadonov is incredibly good at maintaining puck possession and because of this he fits very well into Dineen's puck possession system. It's good to see him having some success so far, and hopefully he'll start getting onto the scoresheet regularly.
- You know that first line can score, but man can they play defense too. Dineen put the top line out there to shut down the Rangers with the extra attacker at the end, and they again did the job, with a bunch of blocks from the stalwart Mike Weaver. There's a reason that several members of that line are in the top ten in the NHL in plus/minus. They are just playing lights out on both ends of the ice.
- Repik's fast. Really, really fast. If he ever gets to the point where he can finish his chances better, he's going to be a really good second line winger.