Game Day Preview: Buffalo Sabres at Florida Panthers February 10, 2011

Florida: 23-24-6 (52PTS) Visitor: 25-22-5 (55PTS) Season Series: 2-0-0

The big news of the week is the Michael Frolik trade. Frolik and goalie prospect Alexander Salak were traded to Chicago last night for forward Jack Skille, prospect David Pacan and AHL regular Hugh Jessiman. Skille was notified of the trade before the Blackhawks' game in Edmonton last night and was scheduled to fly to Toronto immediately and to Fort Lauderdale this morning. He is expected to play tonight. The Panthers' Assistant General Manager Mike Santos and Team President and COO Michael Yormark are holding another town hall meeting before tonight's game. Usually the General Manager is present for these, but Dale Tallon is in Europe scouting a tournament and is not expected back until sometime next week. Some of us at LBC thought that meant that trades would be put on hold until then, but Stan Bowman must have Tallon's cell number.

The Panthers have a perfect record against the Sabres this season, winning both in Florida and Buffalo in December. The Sabres are 3 points ahead in the standings, so the Panthers need to win this game and the follow-up in Buffalo to take their spot. A win tonight will also give them a tie-breaker against the Sabres if it comes to that.

Roster shakeup or no, the Panthers have a playoff race to get back into and need to play better than they have been in the last couple of weeks. They blew a winnable game on Tuesday, scoring only one goal despite numerous breakaways and quality scoring chances and outplaying the Blues for long stretches and then giving up two on bad turnovers.

Yesterday, Michael Repik was sent back to Rochester in favor of Bill Thomas. Coach Pete DeBoer benched Repik on Tuesday night, saying that he just isn't responsible enough defensively yet. Thomas has not been flashy in previous call-ups, but has not been a defensive liability. This is of such paramount importance because of the Panthers' inability to score. Tomas Vokoun is expected to get the start. The big question of the night is where does Jack Skille fit in? Does he take Frolik's spot on the top line with Weiss and Higgins? Does Booth move back up with Weiss? Does Olesz go back to the second line and Skille take Cory Stillman's spot on Marty Reasoner's left? As far as we know, Skille has not yet arrived in South Florida, but DeBoer was quoted earlier today saying "he'll be here." The coach also said that he since Skille had a long travel day today, he would determine his minutes today based on "how he feels" after he arrived. Once the team gets through tonight's game, he's got two days until the Sharks' visit to figure out and set his lines for the next week. DeBoer, by the way, said that the message sent by this trade is that the team is "trying to get better." His take is that they gave up something (a skill player) to get something (more grit) and that the basis of the trade is "an NHL player for an NHL player."

UPDATE (6:15): According to the Panthers' official Twitter account, Skille will be starting in Frolik's place on the first line with Chris Higgins and Stephen Weiss. I expect that means all other lines will remain the same from Tuesday.

Once again, this is a game that the Panthers have the ability to win. It won't be a cakewalk, by any means. The Sabres are winning more games now than they were in December when the teams last met, and the Panthers are dealing with significant injuries. Expect to see either a focused, juiced up team playing hard after seeing one of their top line forwards traded or a chaotic mess. The Panthers lost their first game in a tight 5-game home stand, but wins the rest of the way out will salvage it. With two more Western Conference teams and the Flyers on deck, they can even afford to spot overtime points to most of the opponents. There's a saying in the upper bowl about how we never which Panthers team is going to show up and the team that shows up tonight will determine the path that Dale Tallon takes in the coming weeks.

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