The Panthers have yet another chance tonight to rise further in the standings and close some divisional gaps as the Ottawa Senators, fresh off a 5-2 loss to the New Jersey Devils on Wednesday night, host Florida this evening. The Cats are hot and had a day of rest between the victory in Toronto and tonight's game, whereas the Sens will be playing on back-to-back nights, which should help the Panthers out a bit. That said, the loss last night prompted the Senators to have a closed-door team meeting postgame and head coach Paul MacLean had quite a bit to say about the team's performance following the game:
"There’s a lack of focus, there’s a lack of leadership, there’s a lack of preparation, just a lack of wanting to play in the National Hockey League and be a team that is willing to do what it takes to be elite," MacLean said. "We’re a long, long way from being an elite team in the league."
The Panthers will have their hands full with a team that's going to come out at home with a fire under their collective rears, so if the Cats can weather the early storm from the Sens, there's a good chance they'll be able to win the war of attrition as Ottawa should begin to feel the effects of back-to-back games as the night wears on. Regardless of fatigue or motivation of the opposition, the Panthers have to continue to play solid team hockey, as they have been on this current win streak.
Scott Clemmensen is likely to get the call, as Tim Thomas isn't available to come off of IR until Friday in Winnipeg. The Panthers may again be without the services of Jonathan Huberdeau, who is still nursing a sore foot, and forward Jesse Winchester is out for 3-4 weeks with a hand injury, meaning that if Huberdeau can't return to action, veteran center Scott Gomez will likely suit up again, keeping Shawn Matthias at wing.
Join us on the omniscient LBC GameThread tonight for some usual antics and fun, and check out the Sens side of things at Silver Seven if you're feeling adventurous.
UPDATES: Huberdeau is probable; Clemmensen to get the start with Craig Anderson in the opposite net.
Players to Watch:
- Bobby Ryan - Leading his club with 16 goals, Ryan is a threat to score every time he's on the ice, and the Panthers allowed him to do just that the last time these clubs met. Florida's done a much better job of keeping the opposition's top players from registering any points, but Ryan's a tough one to keep away for an entire game. The Panthers will have to work to keep the Sens top line from generating any steam, much as they did against the Leafs in the last tilt.
- Scott Clemmensen - As solid as Clemmer's been these last few games, I think many are waiting for the inconsistent and soft Clemmensen to show himself. We've seen none of that lately, but can Clemmensen continue to play solid for the Panthers as potential fatigue sets in? Tim Thomas is likely due back Friday in Winnipeg, so I would expect the Cats to fight hard in front of Clemmer tonight before he resumes his spot on the pine.
- Marcel Goc - Goc has been playing his game as of late, which is defensively sound and solid in the faceoff dot. It's been awhile since his last goal (December 8) and with his line playing some excellent possession hockey, he's due.
- Kyle Turris - He's been a thorn in the Panthers side over the last several meetings between these two teams, with three goals and five points in his last six games. For whatever reason he's had a bunch of success against the Panthers and they'll have to work to make sure Turris isn't able to continue that success.