The Blues fared a lot better than I expected against the Tampa Bay Lightning on Thursday night. I knew they could win, but I figured it was going to be a bigger test that what it was. Just goes to show, you never can tell in the NHL. A dominant road win against a damn good team now leads to a matchup against a scrappy Florida Panthers squad.
The Panthers lost to St Louis on December 8th at Scottrade, in Martin Brodeur 's home debut. This time around, it will be Brian Elliott in goal, facing Roberto Luongo at the other end. After a couple of rough games, Elliott has bounced back nicely. Luongo is having a typically fantastic regular season. So far this year, Lu has started 44 games and posted a 2.43 GAA and a .919 save percentage. If you look at 5 on 5 play (per War-On-Ice), he improves to a .930 save percentage. He's a tough goalie to beat, but that's not to say he's not known to allow a bad goal once in a while. I like the way he handled it later, though.
The Panthers are fighting for a playoff spot, only 4 points behind Boston for the last Wild Card spot. In their last ten games, they've gone 4-5-1 and have lost 2 in a row. That last was a shutout in Dallas. They come home to face the Blues, then embark on a 5-game road trip that concludes with the first half of a home-and-home with Chicago. They'll also face Montreal and Pittsburgh on that road trip. These are all important games for them, and these points are crucial for their playoff plans. I don't expect them to go down without a fight. The Blues will need to get it started by getting ahead early.
One of the Panthers' obstacles is the lack of goal-scoring. Their goals and points leader is Nick Bjugstad, with 19 goals and 15 assists for 34 points. Next is Jonathan Huberdeau and rookie Aaron Ekblad, both with 31 points with identical stats (9g, 22a). Then there is Jussi Jokinen with 4 goals and 24 assists for 28 points. The top 5 is rounded out with old friend Brad Boyes, who is still plugging away with 10 goals and 16 assists for 26 points. Jimmy Hayes is second in goals with 16 on the year, but is only 6th on the team in total points with 26. Those low numbers demonstrate why the Panthers have a -17 in goal differential on the year. If the Blues D can shut it down, our own offense can take it from there.
The Panthers will be missing the services of Dmitry Kulikov, due to the injurious low hit on Tyler Seguin in the Dallas game. Video of the hit HERE (It's nasty). He'll have a hearing with the Dept of Player Safety for that one.
As long as the Blues don't let down their guard against the Cats, they shouldn't have a big problem getting their chances. Capitalize on a couple, and it's another two points for the good guys. Lu is capable of stealing a game, though, and of course the Blues are certainly capable of beating themselves. It's up to Coach Hitch and the team leaders to prevent that from happening.
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Final Verse: An afternoon game today; the puck drops at 4:00 PM St Louis time, and the GDT should drop shortly beforehand. The TV broadcast is on FoxSports MW, and the radio call will be on KMOX 1120 AM. We'll be the only game going on at the time, so there should be plenty of people watching from across the league. If you're one of them, come join us in the GDT. It's BYOB, and I'll be here with my Fireball. If you can't watch the TV broadcast, see if you can find a Panther radio stream - so you can enjoy the Randy Moller goal calls: