While the Flyers (riding a five-game winning streak that includes victories over Pittsburgh, Montreal and the New York Rangers) may view tonight’s contest at the Wells Fargo Center versus the struggling Florida Panthers as a let down or trap game, the Panthers consider facing the red-hot Flyers a test of their fortitude.
“If we’re going to be a good team, we’ve got to beat the top teams,” said Florida forward Marty Reasoner, whose squad also faces the Penguins on their road trip. “So, we have to rise to the challenge of playing in those fun buildings.”
Understanding that Philadelphia is statistically the top team in the league, the Panthers, at 14-16-0, aren’t going to overlook the Orange and Black.
“One thing I don’t worry about as a coach is them (his team) not being mentally prepared to play,” said Florida coach Pete DeBoer. “Because if you’re not, you’ll get embarrassed.’’
Panthers’ forward Chris Higgins, who was previously with the Rangers and Canadiens, is aware of what it’s like playing in Philadelphia.
“Every game is worth two points, but confident-building wins in Pittsburgh or Philly are worth more,’’ he said. “If you can battle out wins there the league takes notice.’’
Florida is coming off a dominant 6-2 victory over the Buffalo Sabres, but will be minus forwards Radek Dvorak, Cory Stillman, Rostislav Olesz and Byron Bitz. The Panthers have shown sparks this season, but have yet to embrace putting it all together for one 60-minute effort. Led by Michael Frolik’s eight goals, the Panthers have the 20th-ranked offense in the league and eighth-ranked defense.
The Flyers, coming off a 4-1 drubbing of the Rangers, have been like a buzz saw in the Eastern Conference, slicing through all the major players. Defeating the Panthers, 5-2, in Nov., the Flyers hope to not overlook Florida. Led by Danny Briere’s 16 goals, the Flyers have the NHL’s second-rated offense and third-ranked defense. Chris Pronger remains out with a broken foot, replaced by Oskars Bartulis. Jody Shelley is expected to be a healthy scratch for the second consecutive game, while Dan Carcillo and Nikolay Zherdev remain activated.
The key to the contest for the Flyers will be scoring early to force Florida’s shabby offense to climb. The Flyers are 13-1 this season when leading after the first period, while Florida is 3-9 when trailing after one.
Florida is expected to play Tomas Vokoun (12-12, 2.48 GAA, .921 sv.) against Philadelphia’s Sergei Bobrovsky (15-4-3, 2.32 GAA, .923 sv.)