Panthers-Sharks Preview

Associated Press  |  Last updated December 02, 2011
The Florida Panthers were satisfied with their most recent effort, but putting the puck in the back of the net remains a concern. It won't be for the San Jose Sharks if they can get their top line going. The Southeast Division-leading Panthers close out a four-game trip Saturday night when they go for their fourth consecutive victory in this matchup. After getting outshot 92-70 in its previous three games, Florida (13-8-4) fired 42 shots on net Thursday in a 2-1 loss to Los Angeles, which had just 26 against Jose Theodore. "We thoroughly outplayed them,'' Panthers first-year coach Kevin Dineen said. "They were trying to run around and chase us and hack us and slash us. When you are getting outplayed as badly as they were, that's the response. We walk out of here feeling very good about the way we played.'' Still, the Panthers have scored one goal in three of their last four games. The club's sputtering power play has contributed to this lack of production. Florida is 4 of 45 with the man advantage over the last 10 contests after failing in all six chances Thursday. The possible return of Kris Versteeg, who has team highs of 12 goals and 26 points, could improve the Panthers' special teams play after he missed the last game with a broken nose suffered in Tuesday's 3-1 win over Carolina. Versteeg is tied for the club lead with four power-play goals. The Sharks (14-7-1) own one of the league's best power-play percentages at home at 23.3, but the club is 0 for 9 in those situations over the last three games overall. San Jose, though, may have found the right combination to get its slumping offense back on track. After his team scored three total goals in its previous three contests, Sharks coach Todd McLellan received a huge lift from Ryane Clowe, Logan Couture and Martin Havlat in Thursday's 4-3 shootout win over Montreal. Back together on the second line, the trio combined for two goals, three assists and a shootout tally from Havlat, who was a season-best plus-3. Clowe's game-tying goal with 1:26 left in regulation was the first time he found the back of the net since Nov. 3. Couture's score was just his second in nine games. "They really read well off each other and they support each other well,'' McLellan said. "You could see the other night when we put them together in L.A. (a 2-0 loss on Monday), Clowe's play picked up right away. He was excited about it again, which is a really good thing for him and a really good thing for (Couture).'' What the Sharks need as they continue a four-game homestand is production from Joe Thornton, Patrick Marleau and Joe Pavelski. The top line has combined for one goal and two assists in the last four games. Pavelski, who netted the deciding goal in Thursday's tiebreaker, had a goal and an assist in the Sharks' 3-2 loss in Sunrise, Fla., on Feb. 13. Marleau was scoreless in last season's lone meeting between these clubs, but he has five goals and seven assists in his last nine games versus Florida. Shawn Matthias, who has a team-best three goals on the Panthers' trip, had a goal and an assist in their last visit to San Jose, a 3-2 overtime victory on March 13, 2010. The Sharks had outscored Florida 18-3 while winning the previous four matchups in San Jose.
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