Tonight, the Buffalo Sabres host the Florida Panthers in the First Niagara Center.
Hey: wake up! This will be a good game, I promise!
Tonight’s Opponent: The Florida Panthers
Record: 19-23-7, 45 pts.
Standings: Fifteenth in Eastern Conference
Current Streak: Won one
Let me open this piece up by pointing out that the Panthers wrecked the Pittsburgh Penguins last night, 5-1. You read that score correctly – and that was NOT with Tim Thomas in goal. In all honesty, Florida has not been playing too terribly as of late, having gone 5-3-2 in their last ten games. Yes, that’s a nice way of saying they are a .500 squad over that stretch . . . but then again, so are the Philadelphia Flyers, and they have climbed into third place in the Metropolitan Division.
The Panthers have some great young talent on their roster, including last year’s Calder Trophy winner, Jonathan Huberdeau, and their leading scorer and potential Calder finalist this year, Aleksander Barkov. Those two studs have combined for 16 goals and 27 assists so far this season, so the future is looking bright for this franchise, especially with another high pick seemingly in the cards for Florida in the 2014 draft.
By the way: also in the running for the Calder Trophy this year? Valeri Nichushkin. Just sayin’.
A huge reason why Florida has a .500 record recently? The play of their goaltenders. While Tim Thomas only has a record of 12-13-3, he is 6-3-2 over his last 11 games, with a save percentage of .928. Meanwhile, you can argue that Thomas’ backup, Scott Clemmensen, has been just as good, as he is 6-2-0 with a .922 save percentage over his last eight games. Since Clemmensen played last night, the Sabres will be facing Thomas, who is as good as they come in the NHL if he is on top of his game.
Something else to keep in mind as Buffalo prepares to battle the Panthers is the fact that Florida’s penalty kill has been superb as of late. They managed to kill off all three of the high-flying Penguins’ power plays last night, bringing their streak of games without giving up a power play goal to ten. Florida has not allowed a power play goal since December 29, having killed off 29 consecutive penalties. That’s impressive, and means that the Sabres are going to have to work extremely hard to score, even when they have the man advantage.
As I mentioned in my Fan Picks post, only two of the last seven games the Panthers have played against the Sabres were decided in regulation, so it is evident that these two teams are very evenly-matched at this stage of their rebuilds. Plan on bearing witness to another tight, and possibly low-scoring, affair tonight!