Game Day Preview: Florida Panthers at New York Rangers

NEW YORK NY - JANUARY 25: Marty Reasoner #19 of the Florida Panthers controls the puck during the third period against the New York Rangers at Madison Square Garden on January 25 2011 in New York City. The Panthers defeated the 4-3. (Photo by Christopher Pasatieri/Getty Images)

Florida: 29-33-10 (68PTS)
New York Rangers: 39-30-4 (82PTS)
Season Series: 2-1-0
Race to the Bottom: 30 EDM (56), 29 COL (62), 28 OTT (63), 27 NYI (68), 26 FLA (68), 25 ATL (72)
Record before and after the trade deadline: 26-29-7 (59PTS) .476 / 3-4-3 (9PTS) .450

The Panthers visit former captain Bryan McCabe and the New York Rangers tonight at Madison Square Garden. This will be the first time the Cats play against their recently traded captain. The Rangers are trying to hold on to their 3 point lead over the Sabres for 7th place in the Eastern Conference while the Panthers are playing for jobs, either in Florida or elsewhere. Despite sending away a large number of roster players around the deadline, the Cats are not a demonstrably worse team than before and have been in 9 of the 10 games played since the deadline.

Last meeting: The Panthers beat the Rangers in New York 4-3 on January 25. Earlier in the season, the teams split the two games in Florida with a pair of 3-0 shutouts.

Last game: The Panthers blew a 2-1 lead to come back and lose 4-3 in a shootout against the New York Islanders. Stephen Weiss tied David Booth for team lead in goals with 21 with his equalizer in the third period. For those counting, that makes two Panthers with more goals than Nathan Horton (20), so far this season. The Rangers are coming off a 5-2 win against the Pittsburgh Penguins thanks to Matt Cooke. Cooke elbowed Ryan McDonagh in the face early in the third period. The Penguins were up 2-1, but the Rangers scored twice 11 seconds apart on the ensuing five-minute power play to take the lead.

Notes: Alexander Sulzer and Jack Skille are expected to both make their returns from injury tonight. Sulzer has been out several weeks with a strained oblique while Skille has been out for a month with a high ankle sprain. Injured forward Shawn Matthias is on the road trip and though it was was previously announced that he was "not ready," it has since been announced that he may play tonight. Defenseman Clay Wilson was returned to Rochester in anticipation of Sulzer's return to the lineup. Scott Clemmensen is out of tonight's game. Marty Reasoner's brother Adam played with the team today in practice, while Tyler Plante is on the way from Rochester to back up Tomas Vokoun.

Injuries: Scott Clemmensen, lower body, unknown (3/22/2011), Stephen Weiss, leg, unknown (3/22/2011), Scott Timmins, concussion, unknown (3/10/2011). Shawn Matthias (IR), broken ankle, out 6-8 weeks (1/31/2011). Rostislav Olesz, knee, out for the season (2/25/2011). Byron Bitz (IR), sports hernia, out for the season.

Starting goaltenders: Vokoun will get the start tonight. He's 2-0-0 against the Rangers this year with 1 shutout, a 1.50 GAA and a .955 save percentage. Clemmensen is 0-1-0 with a 3.20 GAA and .842 save percentage. For the Rangers, Henrik Lundqvist is 1-1-0 against the Cats this season, with a 2.03 GAA and .930 save percentage.

Lines: This should be an interesting one, with Weiss out and Matthias possibly, but not definitely in tonight. Skille will replace Weiss in the lineup, but Marty Reasoner will probably center the top line, with Skille taking a spot on a different line. The trio of Stephen Weiss, Sergei Samsonov and Niclas Bergfors was put together following the trade deadline and has 24 points in 10 games. It is hoped that they can click with Reasoner. Don't be surprised if DeBoer makes changes during the game to get the top line moving if need be. Weiss' absence leaves a gap at center. If Matthias does indeed play, he will probably center the third or fourth line, with Santorelli moving back up to the second and Ryan Carter centering the last line. If not, then expect someone like Michal Repik to be moved to center or for DeBoer to double shift someone, maybe Reasoner or David Booth.

Forwards: My best guess
Bergfors - Reasoner - Samsonov
Booth - Santorelli - Dadonov
Skille - Matthias - Bernier
Hordichuk - Carter - Rissmiller/Repik

Defense:
Weaver-Garrison
Kulikov-Ellerby
Callahan-Sulzer

The Cats have been good against the Rangers this year, so this is hardly a gimme game for the Rags, who are unlikely to lose their playoff spot to Carolina, but don't want to take any chances. This is the first of back-to-back games for the Panthers, who play tomorrow night in Chicago. Don't expect them to take it easy tonight, though, as they tend to play better in the first games of back-to-backs.

More from our New York Rangers cohorts at Blueshirt Banter

Panthers vs Rangers coverage at SBNation.com

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