Game Day Preview: Edmonton Oilers vs. Florida Panthers.

EDMONTON OILERS (8-6-1) vs. FLORIDA PANTHERS (3-5-3)

GAME TIME: 7:00 P.M.

GAME DAY VIDEO: Brilliant Disguise

At long last the Florida Panthers finally play a game, and will actually have 3 games in 4 nights as their schedule looks to resume some regularity.  The Panthers last played on Friday of last week in Finland, beating the Winnipeg Jets 4-2.  That game saw Roberto Luongo play in only his second game of the season after being injured in the season opener against the Tampa Bay Lightning when Frank Vatrano fell on the veteran netminders leg.  Luongo came back a bit earlier than expected, however was fully cleared by the medical staff and looked to be in good shape.

The Panthers are in a bit of trouble with a dismal 3-5-3 record and only one regulation win, which was the Winnipeg victory.  They currently are winless at home with a 0-3-1 record.  They have played the least amount of games so far this season, and tonight’s tilt will only be their 12th.  Things need to get back on track real soon and the Panthers can ill afford to fall further behind in the standing.  They risk having to make another mad dash to the playoffs if they’re unable to string together some victories over the next two to three weeks.  By Thanksgiving weekend, the Panthers need to have shown some significant progress, and accumulate some points.

Evgenii Dadonov leads the team in points with 13, and Mike Hoffman leads the team in goals with 6.  These two have been the most consistent players of late for Florida, and the Panthers will need not only them, but the rest of the top six to start generating offence.  Coach Bob Boughner has been looking for the right line combination, and Mike Hoffman has been the one that’s been moved around the most.  Not because of his versatility, but because Bob is trying to find the right chemistry.  In Wednesday’s practice Hoffman was on the top line with Aleksander Barkov and Evgenii Dadonov.  Nick Bjugstad was moved to the third line with Denis Malgin and Jared McCann.  Frank Vatrano who has played mostly on the third line was moved up to the second line with Vincent Trocheck and Jonathan Huberdeau.  What happens tonight is anyone’s guess, but you can be sure that if Boughner doesn’t see some results, the line blender will be put to use.

Defence and goaltending continue to be the achillies heel for Florida this season.  Looking for more consistency from the defence, especially with their assignments has been a major problem.  Scoring goals from the back end has been down, and it’s not for lack of shot attempts, but more from quality shot attempts.  As far as missing assignments, we’ve seen all too often this year that the defensive zone coverage appears to be id disarray.  After a few days off it is hoped that they can get their game back.

The team received a major boost with Luongo returning as soon as he did.  The team just plays better when Lu is in goal.  They feel that they’re able to take more chances offensively, and are a bit more confident knowing that if there’s a mistake, Lu will be there to bail them out.  As of the time I’m preparing this I’ve seen reports that Luongo is probable, and that James Reimer is expected.

The Edmonton Oilers are fresh off a loss to Tampa on Tuesday, as well as a loss to the Washington Capitals on Monday. Wonder boy Connor McJesus McDavid leads the team in goals with 10 and points with 22, while Ryan Nugent-Hopkins leads with assists at 14.  The Oilers are fast and can score.  They’re loaded with offensive talent, which has pretty much been their history.  Defensively has been another story.  They’ve given up 46 goals so far in 15 games, putting them towards the bottom 5 teams in the Western Conference.  Cam Talbot is expected to start tonight.  Talbot so far has a 5-5-1 record with a 2.92 GAA.

This game could go one of many ways.  The Panthers who have been off since last Friday could come out with a bunch of energy, and they should.  However, a long layoff can sometimes cause you a longer time to “find your legs”.  Edmonton, a team that is fast has been enjoying the sun of Florida, and might be ripe for their third loss in a row.

The Panthers have to take control of their season right now.  They need to find that chemistry that has seemingly vanished from the second half of last season.  A three game homestand that starts tonight is the perfect time to get things in gear.  There isn’t much time to find out who this team really is.

Thanks for reading.

Please follow me on Twitter @FrankRekas

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