Game Day Preview: San Jose Sharks at Florida Panthers February 13, 2011

Florida: 23-24-7 (53PTS)
San Jose: 30-20-6 (66PTS)
Season Series: 0-0-0

The Panthers lost twice in the first two games of a five-game homestand. They got a point in overtime on Thursday, but in doing so put another point between themselves and 10th place Buffalo. They're still on the playoff bubble, but mostly because of the poor performance of the New York Rangers, who have lost four straight. The Panthers are seven points out of 8th place Carolina (and 9th place Atlanta), with 2 games in hand. The 7th place Rangers are 2 more points ahead.

This is the only meeting between the two teams this season. Although, historically the Sharks have been the better team, the Panthers have won the last two games: one last season in San Jose and two years ago at home.

On Thursday, the Panthers welcomed new teammate Jack Skille, who came from Chicago in a five-player deal that sent Michael Frolik and goaltending prospect Alexander Salak to the Blackhawks. Skille learned of the trade before warmups for Chicago's game in Edmonton Wednesday night. He left Edmonton and arrived in Fort Lauderdale 19 hours later, then played 17:45 on the first line in Frolik's place. He was a -1, had 2 shots and led the team with 10 hits. The Panthers' suddenly relevant special teams were perfect, with the Panthers scoring on their only power play and killing both of Buffalo's man advantages. The problem was their five-on-five play, which was too cautious, perhaps understandably so. First-line center Stephen Weiss, still nursing a hand injury, took only two faceoffs all night. Left-wing Chris Higgins took most of the draws for Weiss. Defenseman Dmitry Kulikov was struck in the ankle with a puck and left the game midway through.

Cory Stillman, injured in practice last week, is expected to return to his place on the third line with Marty Reasoner and Radek Dvorak. Dmitry Kulikov is questionablefor today's game. Defenseman Joe Callahan was called up from Rochester to take his place if necessary. Bryan McCabe is skating again, but is still about "a week" away from returning (though the Sun-Sentinel's Harvey Fialkov thinks he'll be back on Wednesday against the Flyers). Stephen Weiss is still playing through injury. We haven't heard differently, so will for the moment assume that Jack Skille will again take Michael Frolik's old place on the right side of Weiss. Scott Timmins should again be on the fourth line with Darcy Hordichuk. I would expect that with Stillman back, we'll see Olesz back on the second line with Michael Santorelli and David Booth and for Steve Bernier to line up next to Timmins. Tomas Vokoun is likely to be your starting goaltender.

The Sharks are the slight favorite to win this, only because their shots for are slightly higher than the Panthers'. The two teams' goaltending is rated about the same. The Panthers, however, often play up to the top teams in the league. Their poor records of the last few years are often attributed more to giving up games to teams close to them in the standings, like the Sabres last week. If they play to form, this will be the best game they've played in a couple of weeks and they will be on the winning end of another one-goal game.

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TSN Preview here.