Home team: Florida Panthers 12-11-6 at home
From my good friend Donny Rivette – the founder and managing editor of LitterBoxCats.com on SBNation. Be sure to check Donny out there and follow him on Twitter.
Trying to ascertain just who would be the core of Florida Panthers going into tonight’s game as of Friday morning was looking to be an exercise in futility. Call-ups, team meetings, letters from ownership, and cancelled practices all conspired to pave the way for a flurry of player acquisitions and roster turnover before the Olympic trade “freeze” of 3pm. Alas, cooler heads prevailed, at least from a management perspective, and no shotgun moves were made simply to please the weary-eyed Florida fanbase. Other than dealing UFA forward Dominic Moore to Montreal for a second-round pick in 2011 on Thursday, nothing further ensued. Rest assured there will be others once the freeze is lifted.
Going into Saturday’s match in Sunrise, the Bruins will face a Cats squad which has no definable identity; even the general manager has made it crystal clear that no one on the roster is safe, though it’s reasonable to assume winger David Booth won’t be looking over his shoulder. This is essentially the same club Boston faced in South Florida on December 27th, when the Bruins picked up a 2-1 win against netminder Scott Clemmensen. For the record, “Clemmer” hasn’t appeared in a game since, as Tomas Vokoun has been the Cats’ goaltender for every second of action from that time forward. Booth is back to the lineup as well, but has had little luck on the scoresheet after returning January 31st (6gp, 2a, -2). Then again, no one is scoring for this club, which has netted just 13 goals over the last 12 games. Needless to say, the eighth spot in the East has drifted to the distant horizon. Not an impossible task, but certainly improbable.
What to expect? The Panthers were shutout by Roberto Luongo’s Canucks Thursday, and Vancouver by no means played a perfect 60 minutes. But it was good enough to snuff out whatever life the Cats may have still possessed; Vokoun, understandably, was not pleased with the outcome. Has any member of the organization given more to win in the past three seasons than T-Vo? A hot name on the trade market, Vokoun has a NTC but spoke recently of waiving it under the right circumstances. Whether Florida can muster up enough energy to out-muscle the Bruins is debatable: after the speeches, meetings, and angry letters – not to mention the current five game losing streak – this bunch is toast, mentally. If Vokoun starts – and as a favor to him and his Olympic obligations, he may not – plan for a low-scoring evening, but there’s no reason to believe the Panthers have turned the corner on their collective scoring woes. We’ve got a ways to go before that. At least the rebuild is underway.
As for lines, who knows? Coach Peter DeBoer is fond of changing things up on a dime, and the surreal lame-duck status of the team makes experimentation entirely within the realm of possibility. Other than Booth-Stephen Weiss-Michael Frolik making up the first unit, all bets are off. Keep in mind this may be a final audition, so to speak, for many on the Panthers’ payroll. And it’s about time.
Away Team: Boston Bruins: 13-10-5 away
The Bruins are looking to extend their win-streak to four tonight, as they face the Panthers for the 62nd time in their lifetime series, and third of four meetings on the season. The Bruins hold a the slight edge with a 26-25-6-4 record, but have been outscored 172-168 during this span. The B’s and Cats have split their previous two meeting: a 1-0 Panthers win on Nov. 12, and a Boston 2-1 victory on Dec. 27.
The last time the Bruins won four-straight was back on Nov. 19-25.
For five straight game, the B’s have opened each game with a 2-0 lead, and have gone 3-0-2 over than span. On Thursday, the Black-and-Gold stormed the Lightning with a 5-0 lead, but watch Tampa Bay climb back into it with four unanswered goals.
Michael Ryder scored twice, bringing his 2009-10 totals to 15-10-25.
Miroslav Satan snapped an 11-game goal-less streak by netting his third goal in 18 games with the Bruins.
Marc Savard dished-out two assists; now giving him 0-6-6 over a four-game point-streak.
Derek Morris’ efforts were also rewarded by adding two assists. Morris now has a two-game assist-streak with 0-3-3 totals.
And Milan Lucic was credited with two goals of his own [one tip and another deflection off his body] to bring his season totals to 5-5-10 in 27 games played. Boston won the nail-biter 5-4 in Tampa, but it shouldn’t have been that close.
“With those two-nothing leads, that’s one thing we need to rectify as quick as possible before it comes back to bite us.” Claude Julien said yesterday after practice in Florida. “Certainly last night the two points, I don’t know if it was more relief than it was anything else. But we’ve got to smarter and learn to play better with the lead. That’s probably the thing that’s hurting us the most because the rest of our game is coming around.
“It’s more about the way we gave up the goals.” Julien added. ” And it wasn’t by trying to make more of those goals. It was blind-passes, turnovers, not sharp, not strong on the puck. Maybe too comfortable. We need to play a little better and a little smarter when you’ve got the lead.”
Tuukka Rask, who should also start tonight, stopped 31 of 35 shots to record his 13th win of the season.
“Right now we’re riding him because we’re winning games.” Julien said convincingly. “We just have to try and do the right thing for the team for the moment, and when a guy keeps winning, you got to almost stick with him.”
The 22-year-old Rask has started the last five games for the Bruins, and has gone 3-0-2 during that span. Rask’s longest consecutive starting-streak is at six – back from Nov. 16-27 when he filled-in beautifully for the then-injured Tim Thomas. Rask has the league’s third-best save-percentage [.928] and the second-best goals-against average [2.09].
Recent “questionable” players: Shawn Thornton and Milan Lucic may have a bit of food poisoning, as they both missed yesterday’s practice. “Thorny and Looch have been sick today, so they stayed back at the hotel.”
Steve Begin was given a maintenance day-off.
Miroslav Satan flew back to Boston yesterday to see some doctors regarding a lacerated hand. “Miro ended up having stitches in his hand.” Julien said Satan’s injury was probably sustained with the butt-end of his stick during his brief altercation with Tampa Bay’s Steve Downie on Thursday night. “No tendon damage or anything like that, so it’s just a laceration. Day-to-day”