I’m sure you’re reading the by-line and thinking “who is this guy?”. Before we get into the preview let me introduce myself a little bit. My name is Omar, I’ve had season tickets for 7 years, and I have 3 goals with 4 assists in my beer league career; so I kind of know what I’m talking about. I’m like the Paul Bissonette of the Kendall Ice Arena… without the fighting… and amazing twitter account. Anyway back to tonight’s matchup.
Florida comes to the Twin Cities looking to extend their winning streak to six. Florida hasn’t seen a winning streak of this length since February of last season which took the club out of contention for a top 5 draft pick. Also, Florida hasn’t seen a winning streak of this magnitude since the 12 game run in the 2015-16 campaign. The core looks the same, but the role players are completely different and so is the system.
Florida currently sits 5 points out of the final playoff spot (17-6-5) with one game in hand. Two years ago, the Panthers improved to 19-12-4 after the 5th win a row on December 22nd. So, it’s fair to say the streaks are different as well. Florida may have not needed a 12-game streak to make the playoffs in 15-16, but this club needs every win they can muster in order to have a chance at sneaking in the backdoor.
The resurgence of Nick Bjugstad has gone a long way in bringing this team back into the mix. Bjugstad has tallied four points (1G, 3A) in the past 5 games including the primary assist in the game winning goal against Ottawa on December 23rd. In nine career matches against his hometown club, Bjugstad has only managed to tally two points along with a -3 rating. His play during his annual homecoming will be pivotal in determining the Panthers’ fate tonight in Minnesota.
Minnesota are in a similar spot as the Panthers, in the sense that they are also on the outside looking in for the playoffs. The Wild (20-16-3, 43 points) come into tonight’s tilt gaining only four of a possible ten points in the previous five matches which includes a 4-2 loss against the Panthers just 11 days ago. Minnesota will look to their usual suspects in Staal, Zucker, Granlund, Suter, and Dumba to take charge and attempt to end the Cats’ streak. Mikael Grandlund is the player to watch out for in the “Christmas colored” jersey, as he comes into the game with 6 points in his previous five games, including a hat trick against the Predators on December 29th. Of course, it wouldn’t be a Panthers game without great news for the opponent as the Wild will have Zach Parise back in the line-up against the Cats. Parise has 24 points (12G, 12A) in 32 career games against Florida.
For the Cats’ to keep their streak alive they will need a well-rounded game against a team that is looking to break out of a funk. The defense will be tasked in shutting down the suspects already discussed above and keeping Minnesota to less than three goals. James Reimer must be up to the task of covering for the inevitable lapses in defense. The “BB-H” line must show up in full strength as this team does not have enough scoring depth to cover for an M.I.A. top line.
All in all, I believe the Panthers have enough to get it done in the Twin Cities. Florida will improve to 41 points and extend their winning streak to six behind a 3-1 performance against the Wild. The real test for the Panthers is just on the horizon.