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Early-season roles reversed as Panthers, Rangers play

by Dave Lozo /

PANTHERS (9-9-2) at RANGERS (11-10-0)

Last 10 -- Florida 7-2-1; New York 4-6-0

Season series -- This is the first meeting of the season between the teams. Last season, the Panthers took 3 out of 4 from the Rangers.

Big story -- Florida has played solid hockey since a rough 2-7-1 start. Conversely, the Rangers won 7 of their first 8 games, but are now having trouble finding secondary scoring behind Marian Gaborik.

Team Scope:

Panthers -- Nothing seemed to be going right for Florida after earning a split against Chicago in their two-game battle in Finland as part of the 2009 Bridgestone NHL Premier. But things have been clicking of late for the Panthers, who have earned points in 8 of their last 10 games, capped by an impressive 2-1 overtime win in Detroit on Friday on Bryan McCabe's goal.

"I think right now we're playing much better as a team and guys are realizing what we need to do to win," said goaltender Tomas Vokoun, who is 5-1-1 in his last seven starts. "Before, a lot of guys were doing their own thing, and you can't win in this League by doing that."

Rangers -- Marian Gaborik is tied for the League lead in goals with 15. Beyond him, only Ales Kotalik (6) and Vinny Prospal (5) have scored more than four goals for the Rangers.

"Obviously our biggest weakness is we're not getting any secondary scoring," coach John Tortorella said. "We can't keep on going one or two goals and expect to win some hockey games."

Who's hot --
Not surprisingly, Gaborik is the hottest Ranger right now. He has 4 goals and 4 assists in his last 5 games. For the Panthers, Stephen Weiss has 3 goals and 3 assists in his last 4 games, while Nathan Horton has 2 goals and 3 assists in that span.

Injury report -- Centers Brandon Dubinsky (wrist) and Chris Drury (concussion) are out for the Rangers. Panthers left wing David Booth is also out with concussion problems and isn't expected back in the lineup until the end of the month.

Stat Pack -- Rangers rookie defenseman Michael Del Zotto is a minus-6 in his last 8 games and hasn't been a plus-player in a game since Oct. 28. This will be the fifth time the Panthers are playing back-to-back games this season. They are only 1-3 in the second half of those back-to-backs.

Puck drop -- Expect Tomas Vokoun to start for the Panthers after Scott Clemmensen turned in a 39-save performance against the Red Wings in Detroit. Vokoun faced the Rangers just once last season, but he made 34 saves in a 2-1 shootout victory.

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