The Florida Panthers finally open their 2020-21 season a few days late as they face the Chicago Blackhawks at the BB&T Center on Sunday January 17, 2021 at 7:00pm.
The former juggernaut Blackhawks, who won 3 cups in 6 years, are in the midst of a rebuild. They lost Corey Crawford and Brandon Saad this offseason. The Blackhawks opened up on Wednesday and Friday over in Tampa and lost to the Bolts by scores of 5-1 and 5-2 respectively, meaning they are 0-2-0 coming into Sunrise tonight.
Chicago is still talented up front, as Patrick Kane is still an elite force and they have young firepower with Dylan Strome, Dominik Kubalik and Alex DeBrincat. Captain Jonathan Toews (undisclosed illness) and young stud Kirby Dach (wrist) are out long term for the Hawks which hampers their forward depth. For forward depth, they brought in Carl Soderberg, Swiss league phenom Pius Suter and former Panthers Lucas Wallmark and Brandon Pirri.
On Defense, Brent Seabrook is starting the year off injured. Duncan Keith is still the number 1 defender despite his regression. They have a solid supporting cast with Connor Murphy, Calvin De Haan and young gun Adam Boqvist along with recently acquired Nikita Zadorov. Rounding out the blueline is rookie Ian Mitchell.
After losing Corey Crawford, the Blackhawks opted to go with their young goalies rather than find a starter. The load has been carried by Malcolm Subban and Collin Delia.
Jeremy Collitton’s lineup should look something along these lines:
12 DeBrincat- 17 Strome- 88 Kane
8 Kubalik- 24 Suter- 73 Pirri
13 Janmark- 71 Wallmark- 65 Shaw
36 Highmore- 64 Kampf- 22 Carpenter
2 Keith- 5 Murphy
16 Zadorov- 27 Boqvist
44 De Haan- 51 Mitchell
The Blackhawks have scored three goals this year, with Alex DeBrincat, Patrick Kane and Dylan Strome each scoring a goal. Adam Boqvist is the only Blackhawk with multiple assists (2) and ties Strome and DeBrincat for the team lead in points with 2.
In net, Malcolm Subban is 0-1-0 with a 5.03 GAA and a .848 save percentage. Subban has played the Panthers three times in his career and although he is 2-0-1, he did post an underwhelming .864 save percentage with a 3.56 GAA in those games. Collin Delia is 0-1-0 with a 5.00 GAA and a .865 save percentage, and has never faced the Panthers in his 19 games of NHL action.
PLAYER TO WATCH
Blackhawk players who are at or over a point per game against the Cats include: Patrick Kane (21 GP, 10-13-23) and Dylan Strome (3 GP, 1-2-3).
My Player to watch is Patrick Kane.
TALE OF THE TAPE
Combined all four goaltenders dressed tonight only have 126 games of NHL experience. Subban has the majority with 67 games under his belt, while Panthers backup Sam Montembeault has 25. Delia has 19 and Panther starter Chris Driedger has 15.
With an injury to Sergei Bobrovsky, Driedger joins 10 other goalies as the Panthers opening night starter, a lineup that has included: John Vanbiesbrouck (1993, 1995-97); Mark Fitzpatrick (1994); Sean Burke (1998-99); Trevor Kidd (2000-01); Roberto Luongo (2002-05, 2014-18); Alex Auld (2006); Tomas Vokoun (2007-10); Jose Theodore (2011-12); Tim Thomas (2013) and Sergei Bobrovsky (2019).
THE YANDLE SITUATION
Following a poor training camp, it was expected that Coach Joel Quenneville would scratch veteran defenseman Keith Yandle, who is currently in the middle of an 866 game iron man streak on opening night. Known for his terrific defensive play and phenomenal leadership Yandle was not happy with the idea, although it is very important to play your best defenders. Rather than take his scratching like a man, Yandle got into a public standoff with Bill Zito and pretty much forced his way back into the lineup for opening night.
Yandle’s expected scratching outraged many across the league such as former NHLer and Yandle buddy Paul Bissonette, who called the Panthers a “s***bird organization” on his podcast Spitting Chiclets. It also outraged many outside of the NHL, including Iona Basketball coach Rick Pitino. Known for his outstanding morals, as he’s only had numerous affairs with other women and recruited high school kids by taking them to parties with strippers Pitino’s outstanding moral conduct obviously influenced some in the Panthers organization to play Yandle, after he tweeted his displeasure for the team sitting Yandle, calling it “despicable and disappointing” which the irony only writes itself here.
If Yandle truly cared about being a team player, he would’ve taken the scratching like a man and rather than standing up for his coach and GM, cementing himself as a real leader on the team, he allowed the national media to eviscerate them and forced someone in the organization to make him play to avoid bad PR. I’m sure Coach Q will be thrilled with whoever forced him into this situation after Yandle starts screaming “Sonk” on the bench like some parakeet after turning the puck over to Patrick Kane right in front of Driedger allowing the Blackhawks to score the game winner (I’m calling it).
Meanwhile in Pittsburgh, Mike Matheson quickly wore out his welcome and Mike Sullivan already scratched him after two games. That’s the difference between an organization holding people accountable and the Panthers.
The Florida Panthers got a roster makeover this offseason as Bill Zito made his mark on the team. Zito traded guys like Mike Matheson, Colton Sceviour and Josh Brown, while letting guys like Wallmark, Erik Haula, Dryden Hunt, Evengii Dadonov, Mark Pysyk, Dominic Toninato and Mike Hoffman walk. The Panthers have new faces on the opening night lineup:
On the top line Sasha Barkov has two new wingers. Anthony Duclair, a career journeyman put up 23 goals and 40 points in Ottawa last year replaces Dadonov as Carter Verehaege, who just won the cup with Tampa as a depth piece is on the other wing. Both guys were free agents.
Jonathan Huberdeau has second line duties with former Blue Jacket center Alex Wennberg, a free agent and Patric Hornqvist, who was acquired in the Matheson trade, which is already looking like one of the best trades in franchise history.
Frank Vatrano plays on the third line with two rookies. Owen Tippett made the opening night roster but was scratched for the 2017-18 opener. He played 7 games, scoring 1 goal before going back to juniors. The former first rounder prepares to suit up for NHL action for the first time in over 36 months, this time with more development and experience under his belt, after putting up an impressive debut AHL season in which he was an all-star and an outstanding training camp. Centering them is Eetu Luostarinen. Acquired in the Vincent Trocheck trade, the former second rounder has 8 games of NHL experience with one assist to show for it in Carolina last year. Luostarinen had a phenomenal camp after a solid season in Finland during the offseason and was able to achieve chemistry with Tippett.
On the fourth line, Noel Acciari and Brett Connolly return from last year. On their wing is Ryan Lomberg, a physical player from the Flames organization who has 11 games of NHL experience with one assist and more importantly 32 PIM. Former Blackhawk and Coyote Vinnie Hinostroza is the odd man out to start.
On the blueline, Ekblad and Weegar return on the top pair with Yandle and Stralman on pair 2. Pair 3 sees two newcomers. Recent waiver pickup Gustav Forsling plays with free agent signing Radko Gudas. The Panthers have three other defenders that can slide in as well, with Markus Nutivaara recovering from COVID, Noah Juulsen finishing his quarantine after being snatched up off waivers and Riley Stillman.
Driedger minds the net and Montembeault backs him up. Bobrovsky is likely to start Tuesday as he is finishing his recovery from an undisclosed injury.
PLAYER TO WATCH
Anthony Duclair and Gustav Forsling used to play for the Blackhawks.
Frank Vatrano (6 GP, 5-1-6) is the only Panther at or above a point per game in their career against Chicago expected to play tonight.
My player to watch is Carter Verhaege. Many say he could be the next Marchessault.
My Prediction/My Game Simulation
Chicago wins 3-2.
After playing two games, the Hawks are more in flow than the Cats and the Cats need time to adjust to a real game. This is apparent as Patrick Kane scores off a pass from Strome and Murphy to take a 1-0 lead with 16:37 left in the first. The goal results from a good shot and the Panthers getting caught in a line change. The Panthers strike back with 8:06 left in the first as Frank Vatrano buries one off the powerplay with assists from Wennberg and Tippett. The Blackhawks make it 2-1 with 3:29 left as Lucas Wallmark gets revenge on the Panthers off a breakaway after the breakout pass from Mitchell.
The second period is scoreless.
Carter Verehaege strikes with 18:56 left in the third after a Yandle shot leaves a mess at the net. Barkov’s follow up on the rebound is saved but the puck trickles left, allowing Verehaege to put it in to tie the game. With 4:13 left, Yandle makes a defensive zone turnover from behind his net after trying to bang it off the boards to a forward. Kane takes the turnover, dekes out the desperate Yandle who is trying to get back into position and alone against Driedger, goes across the crease and backhands it in for the game winner.