After winning last night in Buffalo, the Rangers have won four in a row and five of their last six, including a 4-0-1 run against five teams that will be in the playoffs come April. All that has led to a three point lead on the Islanders with four games in hand. One of those games in hand is tonight in Florida to take on the Panthers. The Panthers are six points back of a wild card spot with 14 games left to play. In short, they need points.
The Panthers went out and grabbed Jaromir Jagr at the trade deadline, hoping he could help push them over the edge. After all, any team with Roberto Luongo in net has a chance every night. But that was before the Luongo and Al Montoya injuries. With both going down in the same game, Dan Ellis now minds the net for the Panthers.
Many thought the Panthers would be a bottom feeder, but the fact that they are still in the hunt is truly amazing. That said, the Panthers have really ridden that loser point advantage, collecting a lead-leading 14 of them thus far. This is a young team fighting for its playoff lives, so this won’t be a cake walk, but the Rangers need to take advantage of Ellis in net.
What have they done lately?
The Panthers have been above hockey .500 of late, at 5-3-2 in their last ten games. Their possession (USAT/FF) game, however, has taken a pretty big hit. It peaked around December with a 55% rolling average, but they have been steadily decreasing for the past two months. They’ve been a sub-50% possession team for some time now, although they are slowly coming towards 50%. The Rangers have the advantage here:
As mentioned above, the Panthers have had a bunch of goaltending injuries, leading to Ellis playing in net the past four games. With that, you’d expect a drop in SPSV%/PDO, as this is heavily weighted by goaltender performance. While a huge drop in SPSV%/PDO did occur, it didn’t happen as a result of the injuries. In fact, just the opposite has occurred.
That steep, steep drop at the end of February. That big drop came when the Panthers had a run against the red-hot Senators, the Penguins, and the Blackhawks twice. So it wasn’t the injury bug that caused that drop. Funny enough, goaltending has been an issue of late, but Ellis –of all people– has been steadying them over the past four games (3-0-1 since taking over), playing to a .925 SV%.
So that drop in SPSV%/PDO is goaltending related –likely due to scheduling– but it is not due to the goaltending injuries. Just an interesting note. Florida’s SH% has been steady throughout the year, not getting many huge peaks and valleys. Goaltending was the issue.
Gerard Gallant has the Panthers running a 1-2-2 forecheck, which they will use aggressively or conservatively pending the game situation (e.g., the score, puck location, etc.). In their own end, the Panthers play a straight up zone defense. For special teams, Gallant runs a standard umbrella power play and diamond force/box penalty kill system.
Jussi Jokinen-Nick Bjugstad-Brad Boyes
Jonathan Huberdeau-Aleksander Barkov-Jaromir Jagr
Brandon Pirri-Vincent Trochek-Jimmy Hayes
Derek MacKenzie-Dave Bolland-Scottie Upshall
Brian Campbell-Aaron Ekblad
Willie Mitchell-Erik Gudbranson
Dmitriy Kulikov-Steve Kampfer
PK: MacKenzie, Bolland, Jokinen, Mitchell, Gudbranson, Ekblad, Campbell
Dan Ellis gets the start.
PP1: McDonagh, Yandle, Kreider, Stepan, MSL
PP2: Boyle, Girardi, Nash, Brassard, Zuccarello
PK: Stepan, Nash, Girardi, Staal, Moore, Fast, Hunwick, Boyle, Hagelin, Klein, McDonagh, MSL
Cam Talbot is in net.
Crazy Prediction: Sheppard gets his first goal as a Ranger.
Be sure to check out our ticket link if you’re looking for tickets to the game. Game time is 5pm on MSG.