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Surging Rangers set to host Panthers

by Mike Battaglino

PANTHERS (3-10-4) at RANGERS (8-8-0)


Last 10: Florida 1-5-4; New York 6-4-0

Season series: This is the first of three games, with the next the night before Thanksgiving. The Florida Panthers defeated the New York Rangers twice in three games last season.

Big story: Peter Horachek will coach his second game for the Panthers, looking for his first win after losing 3-2 at the Ottawa Senators on Saturday afternoon.

Named coach Friday, Horachek held a 45-minute practice before facing back-to-back games, giving him little time to implement his style of play.

"It's impossible, and it's not going to happen," Horachek said. "So what you can do is make little changes. What you hopefully are going to create is an attitude about work. ... When there's changes, people hesitate, and they're not playing the way they need to, just reacting; they're thinking. You add a little bit each time and hopefully you're going to continue to add and we get them to a place where the work is fun, and the work is solid and consistent."

Team Scope:

Panthers: In its first game under its new coach with more changes threatened by general manager Dale Tallon, Florida trailed Ottawa 2-0 in two minutes.

Trying to come back, the Panthers were 0-for-3 on the power play in the third period (including a 5-on-3 for 1:17), 0-for-5 in the game. They are 1-for-25 during an eight-game losing streak (0-4-4).

"It needs obviously a lot of work, and every part of the game on the power play needs to improve," Horachek said. "That's something we're clearly going to have to work on."

Goalie Tim Thomas returned from a lower-body injury to play Saturday. Scott Clemmensen was his backup, leaving Jacob Markstrom scratched. He could be bound for another stint with San Antonio of the American Hockey League.

After this, Florida returns home to play the Anaheim Ducks on Tuesday before heading west for a five-games-in-eight-days road trip.

"I think we made a step in the right direction, and we have to build on it, keep believing in our system and ourselves," forward Marcel Goc said.

Rangers: New York's players are aware of the situation surrounding Florida's coaching change and the results that caused it.

"They're going to come out with some fire, a fresh start for their squad," defenseman Ryan McDonagh told Blueshirts United on Saturday. "We can't overlook anybody right now, it's too important. We're still trying to keep our game consistent and we can just focus on ourselves here and work hard and play our system here."

The Rangers have won five of six and scored 14 goals in their three most recent wins after not getting four in any game prior to that.

"I think that's where your offense starts from, is being good in your defensive zone," forward Ryan Callahan said. "The less time you spend there, the more time you're in their end, and getting opportunities, so that's our goal."

New York has held its opponent to two or fewer goals in nine straight games, and 10 of 11. Henrik Lundqvist will be back in goal after Cam Talbot played in a 4-2 win against the Columbus Blue Jackets on Thursday.

"It's a combination of a lot of things," Lundqvist said. "How we play with the puck, without the puck, making decisions. Cam and me have been playing our game as well, but it's a combination of so many things we're doing good right now and we have to continue doing it."

Who's hot: Panthers forward Nick Bjugstad has the first point streak of his NHL career (two in two games). Goc has two goals and an assist in the past three games. … Callahan has scored in each of the three games since he returned from a thumb injury, to give him a five-game point streak (four goals, two assists). Forward Mats Zuccarello has seven assists in the past five games, eight points in eight games since he was a healthy scratch Oct. 24.

Injury report: Panthers defenseman Ed Jovanovski (hip) and forward Steven Pinizzotto (hip) are on injured reserve. … Rangers forward Rick Nash (head) skated and took shots Saturday, but did not participate in the full practice. He has not played since Oct. 8 and there is no timetable for his return. Forward Dominic Moore (oblique) is out.

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