FLORIDA PANTHERS: 1-2-0 (2 PTS) vs. Tampa Bay Lightning: 2-1-0 (4 PTS)
Game Day Song: “I Can Change” – LCD Soundsystem
In the last leg of a grueling four game road-trip to begin their 2013-2014 campaign, the Florida Panthers will get their first taste of the Sunshine State rivalry this season tonight as they visit the Tampa Bay Lightning before heading home to take on the mighty Pittsburgh Penguins on Friday. Not suiting up for the Panthers tonight will be starting goaltender Tim Thomas who suffered a “slight groin pull” in Tuesday’s 2-1 loss against the Philadelphia Flyers. However, fans should still have reason to feel optimistic as youthful goaltender Jacob Markstrom will get the start in net tonight after stopping all 25 shots he faced in relief against the Flyers. Though it is reported that Thomas’ injury most likely won’t keep him out for an extended period of time, Markstrom could still grasp this opportunity and use it to earn more starts down the line as he still looks to prove himself as an everyday NHL goaltender early on in his career.
While you may think that losing their starting goaltender three games into the season would be the Panthers’ biggest cause for concern at this point, that is sadly the least of their worries. Heading into tonight’s game in Tampa, the Panthers have still yet to register a power play goal – going an astounding 0-16 with an extra man this season thus far. Although the Panthers’ power play has proven to be formidable in the past – 6th in the league last season – it is possible that the arrival of so many new faces has disrupted the Panthers’ once potent chemistry on the power play. For example, Tom Gilbert, who joined the team right before the season started, has clocked the 2nd most power play minutes on the team this season. Hopefully for the Panthers’ sake, once the team is given more time gel, the power play will start to click once again.
On the other end of the spectrum, the Panthers currently have one of the leagues best penalty killing units. Through their first three games played, the Panthers have killed off opponent’s power plays an impressive 91.7% of the time. This kind of stalwart play for the team’s PK unit must continue tonight if they hope to achieve victory as the Lightning’s talented scorers will most certainly be keeping pressure on the Panthers’ net throughout the evening.
For the Lightning, the team is already off to an impressive start this year, earning four points in their first three games this season. New addition Valtteri Filppula is already making his presence felt on the Lightning’s offense, while youngsters Alex Killorn and Tyler Johnson are already looking like NHL veterans. Most surprising for the Lightning thus far has been the play of goaltender Ben Bishop. Acquired last season in a trade with the Senators that shipped talented rookie winger Cory Conacher to Ottawa, Bishop is looking like the starting goaltender that the Bolts have been lacking for a very long time. In two starts this season, Bishop has gone 2-0-0 while earning a 1.89 GAA / .935 SV%. On a team that is usually known for having to win high scoring battles, Bishop could potentially bring an entire new element to the Lightning if he can keep up his play.
Overall, this game is fairly close to a “must win” for the Panthers early on this season. After tonight the Panthers will face tough tests against powerhouse teams like Chicago, Los Angeles, Pittsburgh, and Boston. If the team can’t figure out a way to right the ship tonight, then they could potentially be looking at a long string of losses like the ones that plagued them so often last season. If the team hopes to win tonight, players like Jonathan Huberdeau, Kris Versteeg, and Tomas Fleischmann will need to find their scoring touch and help reinvigorate the Panthers’ anemic scoring attack.
Tune in tonight at 7:30 P.M. on FOX Sports Florida as Aleksander Barkov and the Panthers look to stop Steven Stamkos and the streaking Lightning.
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