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Sabres/Panthers Preview

The Buffalo Sabres have headed south tonight to meet the Florida Panthers inside of Bank Atlantic Center for the first time this season.

Last year the two teams split the four games where they were paired. Florida took away the first two while Buffalo nabbed victories in the second two.

Fans can expect to see a very different Florida Panthers club, which has failed to reach the playoffs for ten years straight. Last summer, former Chicago Blackhawks general manager Dale Tallon took the reigns of the NHL’s southernmost franchise and has proven that he is adamant on turning things around in Sunrise, Florida.

On June 1st of this year, Kevin Dineen was named the new coach of the Panthers. Some Sabres fans may recognize the name, as Mr. Dineen was the former coach of Buffalo’s former AHL affiliate, the Portland Pirates.

The current Panthers roster has thirteen brand new players, most of which were acquired on the first day of free agency in July or through extensive trades. Wingers such as Scottie Upshall, Tomas Fleischmann, Sean Bergenheim, Kris Versteeg and Tomas Kopecky now call Florida home, while notable defensemen Ed Jovanovski and Brian Campbell- the same Brian Campbell who played for both the Buffalo Sabres and Chicago Blackhawks– have become Panthers.

Although Florida allowed perennial Vezina contender Tomas Vokoun to walk away from the team, Tallon brought in a former Vezina winner to replace him- Jose Theodore. Theodore got off to a great start with his new team by posting a shutout in their season opener against the New York Islanders, and since then has accrued a 3-1-0record with an impressive .920 save percentage.

But while Florida comes into tonight’s contest after being shutout inWashington just two days ago, the Sabres arrive on a hot streak. Buffalo is fresh off two gritty, hard-fought road games in Pittsburgh and Montreal, where the goaltending combination of Ryan Miller and Jhonas Enroth stole the show.

Sabres coach Lindy Ruff has stated that he would like to start Enroth start at least once while the Sabres are in Florida to play against the Panthers and the Tampa Bay Lightning, although it remains unknown what games either goaltender will appear in.

Whoever should start in net tonight for Buffalo will face the league’s second best power play at a 29.6% success rate- by far one of the biggest improvements seen with the Panthers. Buffalo will need its stellar penalty kill, which ranks sixth in the league at 90.5%, to counter Florida’s potent special teams powered by Versteeg and Campbell, who have already combined for 11 power play points on the season.

The Sabres will also need to take advantage of their superiority when both teams are at even strength. Buffalo boasts the second highest goals per game total in the NHL at 3.4 per contest, whereas Florida has seen difficulty in even-man situations. 12 Panthers on the roster are below zero in the +/- category, while only three claim a positive rating.

Tonight’s game will commence at 7:30 PM.Fans can either catch the action live on the MSG broadcast or listen in with WGR 550.

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