Kamil Kreps, right, will return to the lineup after missing the last nine games with a shoulder injury. (AP Photo/The Canadian Press, Jeff McIntosh)
By Dave Joseph for floridapanthers.com
SUNRISE – The Panthers, unbeaten in regulation the past seven games, will take to the ice at BankAtlantic Center this evening with a slightly different lineup against the Sabres.
Center Kamil Kreps will return to the lineup after missing nine games with a shoulder injury. But the Panthers will have to do without forward Ville Peltonen and defenseman Nick Boynton.
Boynton is battling the flu, said coach Peter DeBoer. Meanwhile, Peltonen, who’s been so instrumental in the Panthers ascent up the standings, will be out through the All-Star Game due to a knee-on-knee hit Saturday in Tampa.
With the Panthers trailing the Sabres for seventh place in the Eastern Conference, tonight’s contest is a “four point game,” according to DeBoer.
“With where they sit in the standings, where we are in the conference, you only get so many opportunities to make up points like the opportunity tonight,” he said. “Motivation shouldn’t be an issue. We’re worked awfully hard to get into these situations to make sure these are meaningful games at this time of the year.”
DeBoer will start tonight’s game by moving Brett McLean to the line with Gregory Campbell and Radek Dvorak and Kreps playing with Nick Tarnasky and Anthony Stewart. Noah Welch, a healthy scratch the last eight games, will move into Boynton’s spot on the blue line.
“We’ve had injuries all year at different positions and somebody’s misfortune is somebody’s opportunity,” DeBoer said. “All year we’ve battled these situations and we’ve had guys step up, so I’m not that concerned about it.”
The Sabres will also have some changes to their lineup tonight. Defenseman Teppo Numminen, who underwent surgery for a fractured jaw, will not play this evening. He’ll be replaced with Nathan Paetsch, who was a healthy scratch for 13 games. The Sabres blue line is also without Andrej Sakera (ankle).
The biggest key to the game may be Ryan Miller, who is 6-1-0 in his last seven starts with a 1.96 goals against. He’s also won four of his last five starts against the Panthers with a 1.60 goals against. Miller is tied for fourth in the league in wins (21) and has three shutouts.
Miller’s strength is his approach to the game, according to Panthers’ goalie coach Pierre Groulx.
“He’s such a calm goalie,” Groulx said. “Nothing phases him. His attitude is the same whether he lets in a goal or makes a great save. He’s a student of the game. He studies himself, studies everything.”
And the best way to beat a hot goalie?
“Traffic is a key,” Groulx said. “You’ve got to pepper him with shots, pepper him with traffic, pepper him with guys going to the net.”
Tomas Vokoun, who stopped 22 shots in relief Saturday evening of Craig Anderson, will be in goal for the Panthers. Vokoun is 4-0-1 in the last five games he’s played.