Well after 179 days without Panthers hockey, we are back! The morale and expectations are high. To kick things off the Panthers face off against the Tampa Bay Lightning. The Lightning look the same. Same dominant top 6 and same dominant defense. Let’s take a look at some keys to the game.
Defense wins Championships
The Lightning have one of the best offenses in the league. Steven Stamkos is in my opinion the best power play player in the NHL and he isn’t even the best player on this stacked Lightning team. Nikita Kucherov, Stamkos’s winger leads the charge. Brayden Point and Yanni Gourde are coming off great sophmore campaigns and will lead the Lightning second line. JT Miller and Ondrej Palat will round out their top 6. The Panthers lost defensive defensman Bogdan Kiselevich and will have to defend this Lightning team. The Panthers aren’t the best defensive team and in order to make the playoffs, this defense has got to be good and defend well.
The Lightning’s power play is lethal. Steven Stamkos has the 2nd most powerplay goals since his career started among active players. Nikita Kucherov is lethal. The Panthers penalty kill is okay but the Lightning’s powerplay is going to shred it to pieces. The Panthers need to be disciplined and that is gonna be tough as the Cats and Bolts played three consecutive preseason games coming into this game.
Matchup to Watch
Aleksander Barkov vs Steven Stamkos/Nikita Kucherov
Can Aleksander Barkov, one of the best defensive forwards in the game shut down the dynamic duo of Stamkos and Kucherov? We will see
Players to Watch
Hoffman enters his first game as a Florida Panther and has helped solidify the Panthers top 6 forwards. Hoffman had a solid preseason and I expect Hoffman to score the first goal of the season. He was the Panthers #1 pickup this offseason and let’s see what he can do.
60 goals in 2011-12. Despite only scoring 27 goals last year, Stamkos had 59 assists. Watch out for some passes too.
Evengii Dadonov-Aleksander Barkov- Nick Bjugstad
Jonathan Huberdeau- Vincent Trocheck- Mike Hoffman
Denis Malgin- Jared McCann- Frank Vatrano
Troy Brouwer- Derek Mackenzie- Colton Sceviour
Keith Yandle- Aaron Ekblad
Michael Matheson- Mark Pysyk
Jacob MacDonald-Alex Petrovic
Scratched: Micheal Haley, Maxim Mamin
Injured: Mackenzie Weegar (shoulder), Bogdan Kiselevich (jaw), Jamie McGinn (back surgery)
Milestone Watch: Jacob MacDonald (1st Career NHL Game), Keith Yandle (715 consecutive games, longest active ironman streak), Jonathan Huberdeau (1 point behind Radek Dvorak for 7th all time on franchise scoring leaders), Aleskander Barkov (2 points behind Pavel Bure for 10th all time on franchise scoring leaders)
JT Miller-Steven Stamkos- Nikita Kucherov
Ondrej Palat-Brayden Point- Yanni Gourde
Alex Killorn- Anthony Cirelli- Mathieu Joseph
Adam Erne- Cedric Paquette- Cory Conacher
Victor Hedman- Dan Girardi
Ryan McDounagh- Anton Stralman
Brayden Coburn- Mikhali Sergachev
Scratched: Danick Martel
Injured: Ryan Callahan (shoulder), Tyler Johnson (upper body)