Flames-Panthers Preview

Associated Press  |  Last updated December 16, 2011
Florida has a nice cushion atop the Southeast Division, but that lead won't be so comfortable if it continues to play the way it has of late. The Panthers look to avoid a season-high fourth straight loss when they host the Calgary Flames on Friday night. Though Florida (16-9-6) has earned a point in two of the last three contests, it must generate more offense after totaling six goals in four games. Kris Versteeg scored twice but the Panthers recorded just 11 shots after the first period in Tuesday's 3-2 overtime home loss to New Jersey. "We were lucky,'' said defenseman Ed Jovanovski, who has not recorded a point in his last 15 games. "We'll put the point in the bank, but we know as a team we could be a lot better.'' The Panthers, who have a five-point lead over Washington in the Southeast, average 30.4 shots per game but only 23.3 during their three-game skid. Playing for the fourth time in six days and coming off a season-worst 6-1 loss to the New York Rangers on Sunday, Florida jumped out to a 2-0 lead against the Devils but totaled seven shots over the second and third periods. "We didn't play well. I think that's a follow through (on New York)," coach Kevin Dineen told the Panthers' official website. "We looked tired and weren't moving our feet and we didn't have much options." Versteeg's energy does not seemed to have been zapped. The fifth-year winger has three goals and two assists over the last four games, and his team-high 15 goals are seven shy of his career high set with Chicago during the 2008-09 season. Versteeg's hot streak could easily continue against the Flames. He has six goals and seven assists during 16 regular season and playoff games versus Calgary. Florida goaltender Jose Theodore, meanwhile, has allowed eight goals on 56 shots while losing the last two games. He's posted a 3.71 goals-against average while going 0-2-0 in his last three starts against the Flames. Though the Panthers have won two of the last three meetings with the Flames - including 3-0 at Calgary on Oct. 14, 2010 - they have dropped the teams' last two matchups in Florida. Calgary star Jarome Iginla has been held without a point in his last three games against the Panthers, but has five goals and five assists in his last seven contests overall. Iginla and former Panther Olli Jokinen each scored as the Flames (14-14-3) overcame a two-goal deficit to force overtime before falling 5-4 at Tampa Bay on Thursday. Calgary has lost the first two of a four-game trip following a 6-1-1 stretch. "We can't keep throwing these points away,'' Flames defenseman Derek Smith said. "We're beating ourselves, and if we want to keep climbing the standings we can't let this happen again.'' Miikka Kiprusoff made 29 saves Thursday, but it's possible 2006 first-round pick Leland Irving could make his NHL debut for Calgary in this contest. Irving was 15-7-0 with a 2.30 GAA for AHL Abbotsford before being called up Dec. 5.
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