Game Day Preview: Blues vs. Panthers. Come A Little Closer

ST. LOUIS BLUES: 7-1-2 (15 PTS.) vs. FLORIDA PANTHERS: 3-7-2 (8 PTS.)

TSN Game Day

GAME DAY SONG:  COME A LITTLE CLOSER, CAGE THE ELEPHANT

The St. Louis Blues make a rare visit to the BB & T Center tonight for their first game of a three game road trip.  The Florida Panthers will be playing the final game of a six game home stand which hasn’t gone exactly as planned.  With only four points to show for their efforts, the Panthers hope to leave town on a positive note.  The Cats have been off since their disappointing shootout loss to Tampa Bay on Sunday, and have used this week to relax, bond, and work on their struggles.

The St. Louis Blues have played the least amount of games so far at 10, and likely haven’t hit their stride yet.  Although based on the previous meeting of these two teams, the Panthers would beg to differ after being trounced 7-0  back on October 5th.  Seven different Blues players scored, as the Panthers were thoroughly outplayed in their second game of the season.  The game also featured a penalty shot for the Blues, which was converted by Alexander Steen.  Since we’re talking about him, Steen is off to the best start of his professional career with 11 goals and 5 assists for 16 points in 10 games.  Translate that to a full NHL schedule and Steen will end up with 90 goals and 41 assists for 131 points.  An impossible pace to keep up, but nonetheless, you can’t ignore his early success.  In 40 games last season, Steen scored 8 times, and in 2009-2010 he scored 24 goals for his best season yet.  A number that he’ll surely break this season.

With Steen being the primary goal scorer for the Blues, you still need to pay attention to players like David Backes, Vladimir Terasenko, and Derek Roy.  This is a team that has the ability to create offence, and can force you into mistakes, which leads to more opportunities for them.  Coach Ken Hitchcock has them playing “Hitch Hockey”, which is an uptemp offensive style, while paying close attention to defence.  Another part of their game is physical as most of the Blues are more than able as well as willing to use the body, and can deliver some punishing hits.  Backes, T.J. Oshie and Ryan Reeves are just three of the tougher customers.

The Blues defence which features old friend jay Bouwmeester, is one of the best in the Western Conference, and maybe in the NHL.  Six players that are extremely complimentary of each other, and are willing to play the game anyway they deem necessary.  Physical, finesse, or a combination of the two, the Blues defencemen make you work for every point, and at the end of the game, you usually feel as though you did.  In goal, Jaroslav Halak is off to a terrific start with a 7-1-1 record.  He has an 8-1-0 record against the Panthers which includes a four game winning streak and a very stingy 0.75 GAA in those four games.

The Panthers have struggled with consistency, and with scoring this season.  The details of their flat start has been well documented and analyzed to infinity.  The inability to put together a 60 minute effort in each game is the prime result for why they have the record they do.  They’ve lost six of seven, and another weakness in their game is the inability to score with the man advantage.  The Panthers have converted only 4 of 41 chances so far, and is 1 for their last 16.  Adding to the woes is the fact that Tomas Kopecky one of last season’s best players for the Panthers has yet to register a single point.

The Panthers can do themselves a huge favor by coming out of the gate tonight with speed and energy.  The last thing that they need to do however is match the Blues’ physicality.  If they attempt to go hit for hit, they’ll end up on the wrong side of the score again.  If they can figure out a away to keep the puck away from the Blues, and make their defencemen skate, they may have a chance to keep this game close.  In addition, they’ll need to create better scoring chances than they have been, and they can accomplish this by driving the net, and be in place for rebounds.  Brad Boyes, the leading goal scorer for the Panthers with five, will face his old team.  Boyes had the best years of his career when he was with the Blues, and hopefully will use that as motivation.

This is one of the better teams in the NHL, and if there was ever a game to help boost a teams’ confidence, this is one of them.  Much like they kept the game against the Blackhawks close, this game could use a similar formula.

Thanks for reading.  We welcome your comments and opinions.

Follow the Panther Parkway crew on Twitter: Frank Rekas @FrankRekas, David Lasseter @davidlasseter , Paige Lewis @PaigeLewisFL, Jameson Cooper @JamesonCoop, and Amanda Land @HockeyGirl2530.  Also, please join our FaceBook Fan Page and hit the like button, send us photos, and tell us what’s on your mind.

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