Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Fla-NYR Preview: Panthers visit Garden tonight



In half an hour, the Rangers will skate against the Panthers in what amounts to an important swing game. Florida's been hot lately winning four of five to launch into the eighth spot with 39 points- two ahead of the ninth Blueshirts. After sweeping a three-game road trip against the Islanders, Flyers and Canes, it should be a good measuring stick to see where they are. Especially in a topsy turvy East that changes daily. Indeed, every point counts. Winning's the thing. Can they get it together on home ice where their 7-9-1 mark is second worst in the league. That remains to be seen. Florida isn't a bad road team going 10-9-2 thus far, including a 3-2 win at MSG on Nov.21. The Rangers did take the second one in the gimmick four days later. This is the third of four meetings with the final one coming in Sunrise April 3.

Florida has some good forwards with speed that can make life difficult. Stephen Weiss is following up his best season with an even better one. Though nobody talks about him for Team Canada, which is already stacked to the decks. Weiss has company in Nathan Horton, who finally is shooting the puck and seeing results. He's always had power forward potential but has never been consistent. Is this the year it comes together? A good cast includes second-year Czech Michael Frolik, Rotislav Olesz and savvy vet Steve Reinprecht. Scary aspect is Cory Stillman has been out a month and David Booth has missed almost the whole season due to a concussion.

The Cats also boast an underrated blueline that features Team USA hopeful Keith Ballard, who does a lot of things well. There's also Bryan McCabe to watch on the power play. Dennis Seidenberg has been solid and Russian freshman Dmitry Kulikov is a future star. Tomas Vokoun is healthy again in net and will likely oppose Henrik Lundqvist, who's been much better lately permitting two-or-fewer in eight of his last nine starts. So, it figures to be a good test for the Big Ticket and Co. Brian Boyle returns. Erik Christensen and Aaron Voros are the scratches. Hopefully, these are the lines:

Prospal-Dubinsky-Gaborik
Avery-Anisimov-Callahan
Higgins-Drury-Lisin
Brashear-Boyle-Kotalik

Staal-Rozsival
Del Zotto-Girardi
Redden-Gilroy

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