The feast has been digested, the relatives have hit the road, so pack a turkey leftover sandwich, it's time to get back to work. The Panthers conclude their 3 game homestand tonight against the New York Rangers. The Cats are 1-0-1 in their first 2 games of this "season changing" week, and a win tonight could provide a huge boost for the morale of this team. On the other hand, another lackluster loss could put a very early end to this season of hope. Going 2-0-1 against Carolina, New Jersey, and New York would be pretty impressive for this team.
A couple newsworthy notes and tidbits going into tonight's game. First, the Panthers will have 2 new fowards on the ice. Nick Tarnasky, will make his Panther debut tonight after being traded to Florida from Nashville yesterday, and Shawn Matthias will get his 2nd chance with the Cats this season. Matthias hasn't exactly been tearing it up in Rochester, scoring only 3 goals in their first 19 games. Maybe a change of scenery will be what he needs to start producing. Being given a chance to show he belongs at this level can be a pretty big motivator. Imagine the energy on a Tarnasky-Matthias-Stewart line... I think Michael Frolik will continue to see his ice time increase as well, and this is a chance for him to solidify himself with this team.
Second, this is the first game of a home-and-home with the first place team in the Eastern Conference. The Rangers sit 2 points ahead of Boston on top of the table, and are coming off of a 3-2 shootout win in Tampa on Wednesday. New York is 6-3-1 in their last 10, and clearly one of the top teams in the league. Henrik Lundqvist leads the NHL in wins with 14. He also has 6 wins against the Panthers in his career, 3 of them coming via the shutout. Playing against the best seems to bring out the best in the Panthers, and they have 2 in a row with something to prove. Maybe its ill-advised, but I continue to see potential in this team, and I think they start to put it together tonight.
Cory Stillman is still out with concussion symptoms, Nathan Horton is out with a deep leg cut, Richard Zednik is out with an elbow injury. Craig Anderson is in net (don't look now, but Andy leads the NHL in save percentage). There is sure to be a solid Ranger fan base tonight. As we approach the holidays, attendance always goes up as the snow birds flock to the BAC to see their team take on our Panthers. Last year's Panther-Ranger, Thanksgiving week game was a sell-out, and the Panthers won in a shootout. It's always more fun to play in front of a crowd, and hopefully tonight will be no different. I'll be making the trek south for this one, and can't wait for what is sure to be a rowdy atmosphere. Puck drops at 7:30 on FSFL.