PANTHERS (2-7-1) at STARS (6-2-4)
Last 10 -- Panthers (2-7-1); Stars (6-2-2)
Season series --
Not only did the Panthers and Stars split their two-game series last season, but the teams also scored 7 goals apiece. Florida did outshoot Dallas by the slimmest of margins, 61-60. This contest will mark the first and only meeting of the 2009-10 campaign between the clubs.
Big Story --
After coming so close to qualifying for the Stanley Cup Playoffs for the first time in eight seasons in 2008-09 -- giving their fans some hope this season would complete the turnaround -- the Panthers have struggled mightily out of gate. Florida, which just can't seem to get the positive bounces these days, is currently 29th in the League with 5 points.
While much of the talk has been centered around the negative, including the injuries to Radek Dvorak
(leg) and David Booth
(concussion), there was some positive news this week when Florida general manager Randy Sexton said rookie defenseman Dmitry Kulikov
will remain with the team for the foreseeable future. Kulikov's three-year entry-level contract kicked in on Wednesday against the Ottawa Senators -- his 10th game of the season. In addition to seeing plenty of ice time, Florida coach Peter DeBoer also has Kulikov on Florida's top power-play unit.
Center Steve Ott
received the third suspension of his career after the League ruled he'd sit two games for a check on St. Louis Blues defenseman Carlo Colaiacovo last Saturday. Ott is eligible to return Saturday against Nashville. The club should be feeling pretty good right now after ending a four-game stretch of overtime futility on Wednesday following a 4-3 victory over Toronto. Dallas had lost three shootouts and one OT contest before notching the win against the Maple Leafs in the extra session.
Who's Hot --
Left wing James Neal added another goal, his seventh of the season, in overtime to beat Toronto. It was Neal's first of his career in OT. The sophomore forward has seven points in his last four games (4 goals).
"It's a huge goal for him," Stars coach Marc Crawford said. "We had talked all game long about playing a young goaltender that … there are rebounds that will spray out. It took us all that time to get one and James was the benefactor by having a good habit and being in the right spot. When you do that, good things happen."
Injury Report --
Panthers winger David Booth
(concussion) had to spend Saturday in a Philadelphia hospital after being knocked out in the second period against the Flyers. Right wing Radek Dvorak
also left Saturday's game against the Flyers after being hit in the left leg. Both are out against the Stars. For Dallas, center Mike Modano (rib) and Jere Lehtinen (groin) have been placed on injured reserve.
Stat Pack --
In 10 games, the Panthers have scored three or more goals only three times. In contrast, the Dallas Stars
have connected for three-or-more goals nine times this season. With Florida's Booth and Dvorak both sidelined, coach Peter DeBoer had Michal Repik
in the lineup against Ottawa on Wednesday.
Puck Drop --
The Panthers need some sort of break or something to hang their hats -- it's been a struggle in recent weeks. A victory over the Stars at American Airlines Center -- where the home team is 2-2-1 this season -- might be the cure.
--Mike G. Morreale, NHL.com