The Florida Panthers are set to make their first real West Coast swing over the next few days. Tonight, the Panthers are in Tinsel Town to take on the Los Angeles Kings, and on Saturday, the Panthers travel to San Jose to face the Sharks. These will be great tests for the Panthers. The Kings have 28 points, and the Sharks have 27 points in the standings. With 30 points, the Panthers are a competitive team this season, and it will be exciting to see how they match up against two strong Western Conference teams. Here’s some of the important information about both games.
Florida Panthers at Los Angeles Kings – Thursday, December 1
The player for the Panthers to beat against the Kings is Jonathan Quick, the netminder. Quick is having a stellar season and is in the top ten in the NHL in goals against average (GAA) and save percentage (SV%). His GAA is 2.02, and his SV% is .933. In fact, Quick is arguably the biggest reason that the King are sitting in 8th place in the Western Conference rather than much lower. The Kings are struggling on offense as they’ve only mustered 2.3 goals per game this season, ranking them 24th in the NHL. By giving up only 2.2 goals per game, the Kings rank fifth in the NHL and have been able to stay in the playoff hunt. The Panthers will need to find a way to score against the Kings. Last year, they lost 3-2 in Los Angeles as Quick saved 24 of 26 shots on goal.
The game may very well be won in the special teams. The Panthers have the 9th best power play in the league, converting on 18.8% of their opportunities. The Kings will counter this newfound success with their 11th ranked penalty kill. Behind Quick, the Kings are killing 84.4% of their penalties and making it hard on teams to score on the advantage. This will be the match up to watch as the Panthers try to squeeze some goals by Quick.
As always, Anze Kopitar is also a player to watch. Last year, he scored the game winning goal against the Panthers with less than three minutes to go. This year, he’s in the top 15 in scoring in the NHL with 10 goals and 14 assists for a total of 24 points. The Cats will also look to continue to keep Drew Doughty in check. The Kings defenseman has had a slow start to the season with only 7 points. More importantly, he’s carrying a -3 +/- into the game.
If the Panthers can succeed on the power play and keep the Kings offense sputtering, it should be a good outcome for the Cats.
Florida Panthers at San Jose Ducks – Saturday, December 3
San Jose is a very well balanced team as evidenced by their 7th ranked goal differential. The Sharks have scored 2.76 goals per game this season and have given up 2.29 goals per game for a differential of 0.48. Their lead by in points by center Joe Thornton, center Joe Pavelski, and left wing Patrick Marleau. None of the Sharks forwards rank highly in the league in scoring, but the team finds a way to score at a decent rate, and one of the reasons is their very successful power play. The Sharks have scored 16 of their 58 goals this season on the power play. That’s 27.6% of their goals, and they’re converting on 20.0% of their opportunities, which ranks them 6th in the NHL in power play success. The Sharks are also solid in net as they’re led by Antti Niemi who has a GAA of 2.35 and a SV% of .922.
When you look at the Sharks, you actually notice that the Panthers are a very similar team. The Panthers have the 10th best goal differential in the NHL at 0.38 as they’re giving up 2.38 goals per game and scoring 2.75 goals per game. They also have a very strong power play scoring on 18.8% of their opportunities, as discussed above. Of their 66 goals this season, the Panthers have scored 18 on the power play for a percentage of 27.2%. In net, Jose Theodore has looked very similar to Niemi by posting a 2.29 GAA and a .924 SV%.
This game will come down to execution and legs. Both teams play tonight with the Sharks hosting the Montreal Canadiens, so they should be good to go for Saturday. Which ever team makes the fewest mistakes most likely will win because the talent is pretty equal. One area that the Panthers may be able to exploit the Sharks is on the Panthers’ power play. The Sharks are weak on the penalty kill as they’re only killing 76.1% of their penalties, which ranks them 28th in the NHL. The Panthers need to find a way to take advantage of that statistic, and by utilizing Jason Garrison’s big shot and Brian Campbell’s great vision, they can find some success on the power play. In fact, last year it was a Garrison slap shot that won the game for the Panthers in the final minutes of a 3-2 win over the Sharks.
Against the Sharks, the Panthers need to keep mistakes to a minimum and take advantage of the Sharks’ weak penalty kill.