Game Day Preview: Florida Panthers. These Are Better Days!


GAME TIME:  7:00 P.M. EST.



The puck will drop for both teams at last.  For whatever reason the Florida Panthers are habitually one of the last teams to play their first game of the season, making the waiting the hardest part. (Edmonton and New Jersey open tonight as well in Sweden) And to top it off, they will be playing cross state rival Tampa Bay Lightning who were their opponent for the last three preseason games.  Nonetheless, it’s opening night, and the fan base couldn’t be happier.

The Florida Panthers enter this season with a little more respect around the league, and a lot higher expectations of themselves.  Out to prove that having one of the NHL’s best records since January 1st (27-14-6) wasn’t a fluke, the Panthers now feature a top six that can match up against anyone’s.  Newcomer Mike Hoffman obtained from San Jose, via Ottawa, adds some swagger to the lineup, and will bolster the power play.  Speaking of power play, an experiment that the coaching staff thought went fairly well, could get some more looks.  In the final preseason game, the Panthers played with four defencemen for almost the entire game due to injuries to Keith Yandle and Bogdan Kiseleivch.  Coach Bob Boughner decided to employ five forwards on the power play and really liked what he saw, so don’t be surprised if the top power play unit features Aleksander Barkov, Hoffman, Vincent Trocheck, Jonathan Huberdeau and Evgenii Dadonov.  Improving their man advantage numbers is necessary for the Panthers to improve their record from last year, and this trick could be the thing that gets it done.

Defensively and in goal, two areas of concern as this season begins will determine the season outcome for Florida.  Keith Yandle and Aaron Ekblad two offensive minded blue liners are the top unit, rounded out by Mark Pysyk, Mike Matheson, Alex Petrovic and surprising newcomer Jacob MacDonald, who impressed everyone during the preseason.  Mackenzie Weegar is the 7th man on D at this point, and will see some playing time eventually.  These gentlemen must be consistent, avoid giving up odd man rushes, and keep turnovers to a minimum.  In goal, expect the ageless Roberto Luongo to start tonight.  As Luongo goes, so will go the Panthers.  Expect 45-50 games in total this season, and managing his playing time will be crucial to the Panthers success.  James Reimer is again the backup, and will be called upon often this year to provide goaltending as good as Luongo.

Tampa Bay features scoring all throughout their lineup, as head coach John Cooper has the luxury of calling upon the likes of Steven Stamkos, Brayden Point, JT Miller, Nikita Kucherov, Ondrej Palat, and Tyler Johnson, who’s listed as questionable with an upper body injury.  The Lightning are no slouch and will give the Panthers all they can handle offensively with an up tempo game plan that not only is quick, but hard to play against.  One thing Florida doesn’t want to do is play run and gun tonight.  And with Tampa being the host this evening, it’s important that the Panthers slow them down, while taking the crowd out of the game early.

On defence, it doesn’t get too much better than these six, featuring Victor Hedman, Ryan McDonagh, Dan Girardi and Anton Stralman as the top four.  Pretty tough to play against, and pretty tough to score on.  In goal Andrei Vasilevsky is one of the best netminders in the league, and is coming off an outstanding year last year.  44 wins in 65 starts during the regular season are some lofty numbers, but it’s very possible that fatigue set in when the playoffs arrived.

The fact that this will be the fourth consecutive meeting between these two teams, could be a good indicator of a nasty contest.  A good test for both teams, and a good way to start the season.  A road victory by the Panthers, who must improve on last year’s 17-19-5 record away from the BB&T Center will go a long way in boosting their confidence, as everyone knows a slow start is not an option.

A final and quick reminder, if you’re looking for a place to watch the game, come out to Bru’s Room in Delray as the Panther Parkway gang has organized our opening night Watch Party.  Come on out and let’s enjoy the game together!

Thanks for reading.

Please follow me on Twitter @FrankRekas