Game Day Preview: Winnipeg at Florida

By Bill Whitehead

The Florida Panthers are getting to the point, frankly, where there’s not much more to say. Promising homestands have transformed into nightly home dressing rooms that resemble a first date between two bashful teens, quiet as can be. Or a Quaker meeting. Another enticing stretch of home games begins Tuesday when the Winnipeg Jets visit BB&T Center for the second time. The Cats are 1-0-1 against the former Atlanta Thrashers franchise, but now, time and points are more precious than ever.

The last two home games have been disastrous. Shoddy goaltending put Florida in a hole against both Buffalo and Carolina, and the two opponents simply decided against playing offense for the final 40 minutes of both of those games. Rush by rush, shot by shot, both Ryan Miller and Dan Ellis fended off great efforts by the Panthers, but it was mostly fruitless unless Florida had a man advantage. Miller was strong all game and even better in the shootout. Ellis had missed his scheduled start due to illness and was forced to replace an injured Cam Ward, so he was ripe for the picking, yet the Panthers couldn’t get it done.

Florida has four home games in its next five — twice against Winnipeg, the hot Habs on Sunday and the slumping Lightning next Tuesday. Five games against divisional opponents. It’s time to put together some decent numbers, like, say, somehow gaining eight points in those five games. It’s truly come to that because the season is slipping away.

And that’s what’s been missing from these Panthers — an impressive four- or five-game winning streak. A stretch of eight points in five games would get them right back into the mix somewhat, but they’ve shown no inclination, whether it be sparked by steadfast goaltending, workman-like effort or skillful moves, to author a winning streak. Here’s perspective: Florida has six wins this season, which is approaching the midpoint; Winnipeg won 2/3 of that amount on its recent five-game road trip. Now, the Jets are near the top of the Southeast Division.

It’s time for the Panthers to get going — actually it’s way past that point after a wasted first half — because the season is starting to become unmanageable.

Some notes for tonight’s home game against the Jets and some guy named Jokinen:

LAST TIME THE JETS LANDED AT BB&T: In one of its better performances, Florida rallied from two deficits in the third period and scored five times in the final 20 minutes as the Panthers grounded the Jets 6-3 on Jan. 31. Florida was 3-for-6 on the power play, with Brian Campbell, Peter Mueller and Alex Kovalev all scoring a man up. Jonathan Huberdeau, Kris Versteeg and Tomas Kopecky also scored goals, while Tomas Fleischmann recorded a career-high three assists.

HUBY DOING IT: Florida rookie Jonathan Huberdeau tallied the third two-goal game and fourth multi-point game of his 22-game NHL career in his team’s 3-2 loss to Carolina on Sunday. He ranks first among rookies in goals (10), shots (62), is second in points (15) and fourth in shooting percentage (16.1%). The Quebec native is tied for the team lead with Campbell and Fleischmann in points with 15.

STREAKING JETS: Before a 3-0 home loss at the hands of the Washington Capitals on Saturday, Winnipeg had turned its season around by transforming into road warriors. The Jets won five out of six before the Washington loss, including four on the road in Buffalo, Carolina, New Jersey and in Madison Square Garden against the Rangers. Andrew Ladd leads the Jets in both goals and points, with 12 and 20, respectively. Evander Kane is second with 18 points (9-9-18) and Blake Wheeler has 17 (7-10-17). Ex-Panther captain Olli Jokinen has seven points (5-2-7) and is a minus-10. Goaltender Ondrej Pavelec is 8-10-1 with a 2.87 GAA and a .900 SV%.

He’s no longer here wearing 26, but this was a great shootout winner against the Jets:

FEELING A DRAFT: In non-Panther news, at least for now, the NHL announced Monday that the 2013 NHL Draft Lottery will be held on April 29 and will mark the first time in NHL history where all 14 teams not making the Stanley Cup Playoffs, or the clubs that have acquired the first-round selection positions of those clubs, will have a shot at winning the right to the top selection. Previously, the bottom five teams were the only ones who had the opportunity to get the first overall pick. The 2013 NHL Draft will be held Sunday, June 30, at the Prudential Center in Newark, N.J., at 3 p.m. For the first time since 2006, all seven rounds will take place on the same day.

The chances of each non-playoff team earning the first pick is below:

Team 1                    25.0%
Team 2                    18.8%
Team 3                    14.2%
Team 4                    10.7%
Team 5                     8.1%
Team 6                     6.2%
Team 7                     4.7%
Team 8                     3.6%
Team 9                     2.7%
Team 10                    2.1%
Team 11                     1.5%
Team 12                    1.1%
Team 13                    0.8%
Team 14                    0.5%

Winnipeg (10-10-1, 21 pts.) at Florida (6-11-5, 17 pts.)
Tues., Mar. 5, 7:30 p.m.
BB&T Center — Sunrise, Fla.

BY THE NUMBERS

WPG                       vs.               FLA

14.3% (24th)            Power play               20.0% (10th)
72.7% (30th)            Penalty kill             75.0% (29th)
2.62  (18th)            Goals per game           2.46  (22nd)
3.00  (25th)            Goals against            3.68  (30th)
0.93  (21st)            5-on-5 For/Ag.          0.60  (30th)
50.0% (15th)             Faceoffs                 50.7% (13th)
28.5  (18th)            Shots per gm             29.7  (11th)
28.2  (12th)            Shots ag. per gm        31.1  (24th)

PANTHERS’ PACE

Florida has 17 points in 22 games: 37.1 over 48 games

LOCAL TV BROADCAST
Fox Sports Florida, 7:30 p.m.
Steve Goldstein (PxP), Bill Lindsay (Color)

LOCAL RADIO
560 WQAM, 7:30 p.m.
Randy Moller (PxP)

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