The NHL All-Star Game and its associated break seem to be coming at just the right time for the Flyers, who have a few key forwards missing time due to injuries. Tonight's matchup in The Middle of Nowhere, Florida, is the final stop before most of the team gets a week off. Claude Giroux, Kimmo Timonen, Scott Hartnell, Matt Read, and Sean Couturier all head to Ottawa, where they'll be part of the festivities.
It's nearing the end of January, and to be honest, I wouldn't have believed you if you told me the Florida Panthers would be leading the Southeast Division at this point in the season. Part of that is the Washington Capitals not living up to the high expectations everyone had after they only seemed to get better in the off-season, but the work the Panthers have done can't be tossed aside even though they'd be in fifth place were they in the Atlantic Division. Riiiiight? [/masking bias against Southeast Division...]
However, the Panthers have fallen on hard times recently, enduring a slump that makes the Flyers win some-lose some January look a lot better in comparison. A few more notes on the game below, including a look at the familiar face leading the Panthers' attack.
Since December 20th, Florida has won just four games, while losing 10. They did win their last game, taking the extra point off the Winnipeg Jets in a shootout. Hopefully we won't see tonight's game go to that distance. After Sunday, a game in which we saw some of the most entertaining and electric hockey settled in an event better suited for the coming weekend, I don't think I can take another shootout so soon.
The Panthers do lead the league in mercy points, with their slot in the standings owed in part to 10 overtime losses.
Fans were excited when Kris Versteeg came to Philly at last year's trade deadline. His production wasn't quite what everyone expected, and without getting into why (we're not actually sure why), he was part of the jettison this past summer. Kris has found a friendly landing in Florida, where he leads the team in goals (19) and points (42). I never had any problem with Versteeg, almost a little happy to see him doing well.
Versteeg was a key contributor in the Panthers' win over Winnipeg, credited with a pair of goals and an assist. But, before that, he hadn't scored a goal since December 27th, and had only one point since then. Hopefully he didn't just find a groove that continues tonight.
The vibes coming out of the Flyers' loss to Boston were somewhat sour, particularly toward Ilya Bryzgalov, who couldn't stop a single shot in the shootout. But the team proved it could hang with an elite conference foe; it was just one of those endings that deflates all that came just before it.
Sergei Bobrovsky gets the road start tonight. Puck drop is at 7:30.