Key Injuries: Dmitry Kulikov will be out until mid-December with a knee injury. (Florida also carries the contract of Marc Savard, who is on LTIR).
The Florida Panthers are 8-8-3 through the first quarter of the 2015-16 season. Despite solid goaltending from veteran Roberto Luongo, the Panthers have a below average penalty killing unit and they are below the league average in GF/GP with 2.58. The Rangers are fourth in the league in that category at an even 3.00 GF/GP. The Panthers struggle to find offense at even strength and their penalty kill leaves a lot to be desired.
However, the Panthers do have the eighth best power play in the league and Jaromir Jagr has 15 points in 17 games this season for Florida. Giving Jagr time and space with the puck at even strength or on the power play is a good way to lose hockey games. Jagr may be turning 44 in February, but he still has one of the best shots in hockey and knows where to go to score goals better than anyone currently in the league. Staying out of the box against the Panthers will be crucial for the Rangers tonight. Without the man advantage, the Panthers' offense doesn't have that much bite. Or claws... whatever works for you.
The team from south Florida is coming off of a 3-1 loss to the stumbling Anaheim Ducks. Key young forward Jonathan Huberdeau has started the season slowly, picking up just 1 goal and 9 assists in thus far. Huberdeau plays on the top line with Aleksander Barkov and Jagr, Florida's second line is centered by Nick Bjugstad with Reilly Smith and Jussi Jokinen on its wings. Beyond the top six there isn't much offensive depth or talent in Florida's lineup, but no team should ever be taken lightly.
Keep an eye on 19 year old Aaron Ekblad who plays on the top pair with Brian Campbell for Florida. Ekblad was the 1st overall pick in the 2014 Draft and he has 4 goals and 3 assists for the Panthers this season from the blue line. Even at 19 years old it's easy to see he's a stud and is going to be a very special player in the NHL someday soon.
Roberto Luongo, who will get the start tonight, should not be underestimated by the Rangers. At even strength Luongo has a 94.86 SV% which is a far more important statistic than his individual record of 6-7-2. The veteran goaltender has been on his game lately and is the backbone of what makes the Panthers a competitive hockey club.
The Rangers have swept the three game season series against the Florida Panthers both of the last two seasons. In last year's three game series the Blueshirts outscored the Panthers 13 goals to 6. The last time the Panthers beat the Rangers was on April 23, 2013 on their home ice. However, it's a new season and the Rangers are coming off of a gutting loss to the Tampa Bay Lightning. Just because this is a game that they "should" win doesn't mean it's already penciled in as a "W" in the standings. The Blueshirts have to go out and earn these two points tonight on the road.
Enjoy tonight's game. Thanks for reading.
Let's go Rangers.