SUNRISE – Peter DeBoer hasn’t hidden the fact he’s done a little scoreboard watching this season.
Just Wednesday night, Pittsburgh was trying to make up ground in the Atlantic Division against the Rangers and Buffalo was trying to stay a step ahead of the Panthers in the Eastern Conference.
“It’s good. We’re in a position that we’re scoreboard watching at this time of year,” said DeBoer, before cautioning, “but there’s an awful lot of hockey to play. For us, as a staff and group, it’s more important we don’t get caught up in the big picture but focus on the task at hand, and tonight it’s the Montreal Canadiens.”
And the Canadiens are no small task. When the teams take to the ice at what promises to be a rocking BankAtlantic Center tonight at 7 p.m., the Canadiens will be trying to halt a three-game losing streak that stretched Tuesday in Tampa with a 5-3 loss to the rejuvenated Lightning.
“Great team, a lot of talent,” is how DeBoer summed up the Canadiens after Thursday’s morning skate. “They’re healthier again with (Saku) Koivu and (Christopher) Higgins back. It’s a great test for us. They’re a team that can beat you in a lot of different ways. Their power play is starting to click again, even though it struggled earlier in the year.
“I’m sure they’ll be a little upset over losing in Tampa. We’re getting an angry Montreal Canadiens team, which is also dangerous.”
Panther rookie Michael Frolik, coming off the first, three-point game of his career, said the Canadiens are a “very good team with skilled players.”
“But if we stay with our plan I think we have a chance to win.”
Montreal’s head coach Guy Carbonneau put the Canadiens through an up-tempo practice Wednesday morning at BankAtlantic after a team meeting.
“You want to bounce back as soon as possible after a loss,” Koivu told the Montreal Gazette. “The meeting was cutting down on the chances against and playing well defensively. That’s what made us successful early in the season. The guys who have been here before know that after the All-Star break the intensity level gets a notch higher and the teams that are trying to catch a playoff spot are going to be ready for you.”
And that’s one of the reasons DeBoer doesn’t mind a little scoreboard watching, but also wants the focus on the games at hand.
“This is going to go right through April,” said DeBoer of the playoff race. “What we have to do is focus short term here and keep our focus on one game at a time and, hopefully, stay in the mix.”
The only change to the Panthers lineup from Tuesday’s 3-2 victory over the Flyers will be on the fourth line, where Nick Tarnasky will take the place of Anthony Stewart alongside Kamil Kreps and Brett McLean.
“I didn’t think our fourth line gave us as much as we need them to give us, so we’re going to move some guys in and out there,” DeBoer said.
Tomas Vokoun in goal for the Panthers, Carey Price, who allowed three goals on six shots in Tuesday’s second period against Tampa, in goal for the Canadiens…David Booth has 18 points (eight goals) in his last 16 games…Jay Bouwmeester is back on top in the NHL in on-ice time with 27:20. He also has 18 points (10 goals) in his last 27 games…Once again, game time is 7 p.m.