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Panthers-Blackhawks Preview

Sunday, 12.16.2007 / 6:00 PM

Associated Press

The Chicago Blackhawks were feeling great about themselves as they rolled into the month of December fresh off their best month in nearly five years. After losing five of six, November's success may also feel that far away.

The Blackhawks look to get back on a winning track on Sunday when they host the Florida Panthers.

Chicago (15-14-2) went 8-3-2 in November, and with rookie stars Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews leading the charge, the Blackhawks have been one of the bigger surprises in the league. It was the franchise's best month since going 8-3-0 with three ties in December 2002.

The Blackhawks had lost four in a row to start this December before a 6-3 win against Los Angeles on Wednesday. But they mustered no offense aside from Kane scoring a goal in his first NHL game in his hometown of Buffalo in a 3-1 loss to the Sabres on Saturday.

"It was a tough game," said Kane, the NHL's leading scorer among rookies with 31 points. "There was a little bit of a distraction. I was probably the only one who could really get up for this game."

The goal was Kane's first since Nov. 11 against Detroit, snapping a 13-game drought.

The Blackhawks were 0-for-7 on the power play against Buffalo, and are just 3-for-26 (11.5 percent) during their month-long struggles.

It's also been a rough stretch for goaltender Nikolai Khabibulin. The four-time All-Star is 1-4-0 with a 3.05 goals-against average and an .876 save percentage this month after going 6-1-2 with a 2.38 GAA and a .921 save percentage in November.

The Panthers (14-16-2) have been largely dependent on their starting goaltender, Tomas Vokoun. In fact, they haven't won without him between the pipes. Vokoun, in his first season in Florida after being traded from Nashville in June, has faced 892 shots - the most any netminder has faced - in his 27 starts.

Yet he's 14-12-1, and his .920 save percentage is among the top 10 in the league.

Despite Vokoun's strong play, he gave up five goals on 46 shots in a 5-2 loss at Detroit on Saturday. The Panthers killed only 3 of 6 penalties after conceding three power-play goals in their previous seven games, spanning 24 opportunities.

"We stood around and weren't part of the game," Vokoun said.

Panthers captain Olli Jokinen, the only player on the team with double-digit goals (17), wasn't pleased with the effort as Florida fell to 2-4-1 in its last seven games.

"When the game was 4-2, some of our guys quit playing," said Jokinen, who has five goals in his last five games. "...It's not too much to ask players to work their butt off on every shift."

Florida has scored just 77 goals - fewest in the Southeast Division - and gone 0-for-12 on the power play its last three games. The Panthers are converting 21.6 percent of their power plays overall, but only 16.4 percent (10-for-61) on the road.

The Panthers snapped an eight-game winless streak with a 4-3 victory over the Blackhawks on Dec. 3, 2005, in the most recent meeting between the teams. Florida, which had gone 0-6-0 with two ties prior to that win, is 0-4-0 with one tie at the United Center since a 7-3 rout Oct. 30, 1998.

2007-2008 season series
DateScoreW. Goal
Dec 16 '07FLA 3 at CHI 1R. Zednik
PlayerGPGAP+/-PIMPPGW
GoalieGPRec.GASAGAASv%
PlayerGPGAP+/-PIMPPGW
GoalieGPRec.GASAGAASv%
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