Note: I don’t normally do game previews, but considering how important tonight’s game is, I thought I’d make an exception.
In 1969 the Rolling Stones released Gimme Shelter , an iconic rock anthem that has preserved out the ages, for what many perceive as its anti-war message, as the Stones protested the Vietnam War. I thought this was a fitting song for tonight’s game. Tonight, the Panthers are being threatened by a storm, like the song lyrics say. The Carolina Hurricanes are a storm, the last remaining undefeated team in the NHL at 9-0-0. If the Canes win tonight’s game, they go to 10-0-0, tying the best start to a season in NHL history through 10 games. If the Panthers win tonight’s game, they go to 10-0-1, which I believe is the best start to a season in NHL history through 11 games. The Panthers are left to withstand the storm or obtain shelter. Tonight’s game will see if the Panthers can withstand a hurricane or if they have to cry out “gimme shelter”.
Aside from me trying to tie in an iconic rock anthem to a hockey game in an absurd manner, tonight’s game is seriously one of the best NHL regular season games in history, pre-trade deadline. It is the biggest regular season pre-deadline clash since December 31st, 2016, when the Columbus Blue Jackets defeated the Minnesota Wild 4-2, to extend their winning streak to 15 games. The streak also saw Minnesota’s impressive 12-game streak end. The netminder for that game for the Jackets was Sergei Bobrovsky, who turned aside 29/31 shots while Assistant GM Bill Zito watched from the St. Paul pressbox. Both men are now Panthers, Zito the team’s GM and Bobrovsky the team’s goalie.
BEHIND THE BENCHES
Another interesting factoid is that Zito’s Assistant GM counterpart that game, Wild Assistant GM Andrew Brunette, is now the Florida Panthers interim head coach. Brunette was promoted to his role after the resignation of Joel Quenneville, due to his involvement in the mishandling of the sexual assault perpetrated by Brad Aldrich on Kyle Beach during the 2010 Stanley Cup Playoffs. Brunette so far has been 2-0-1, but all three of his games have gone past regulation.
Brunette is a first-time head coach at any level and there is only one other coach in the NHL that fits that label. That coach will be on the other bench tonight and he has developed into one of the best coaches in the NHL right now. Rod Brind’amour has been a phenomenal coach for the Carolina Hurricanes so far, leading them from perpetual mediocrity to one of the scariest teams in the NHL. These two men often faced each other in their playing careers, and will now face each other for the first time behind the bench. This game will be an extremely good test for Brunette’s coaching savvy. Brunette is well-liked in the locker room and initial reports seem to indicate that he will serve as head coach for the rest of the season. Brunette is going to take time to adjust to becoming a head coach, much like Brind’Amour did in his first season behind the Canes bench. Eventually, Brind’amour found his way and led his team to the conference finals in his first year. Panthers fans hope that Brunette can follow the same trajectory.
The injury bug has not been kind to either team so far. The Panthers will be down second line center Sam Bennett tonight. Bennett has missed the past two-games with an upper-body injury suffered in the Panthers 3-2 Overtime victory in Detroit last Friday. Bennett has 4 goals and 3 assists in 8 games this season, and has produced 22 points in 18 career regular season games as a Panther, after being acquired at the trade deadline last year. Bennett’s physical style and offensive reckoning is going to be sorely missed against the Canes second line center, who is a familiar face.
Additionally, the Panthers will be without goaltender Sergei Bobrovsky, who has been stellar to start the season, going 6-0-0 in 7 games with a .948 save percentage and a 1.72 GAA. Bobrovsky left Florida’s game Thursday night with an upper body injury and is considered to be day-to-day.
Other key injuries for the Panthers include C Joe Thornton, D Markus Nutivaara and D Olli Juolevi. D Radko Gudas is expected back after missing the Washington game with an injury. He’ll replace Chase Priskie, who made his NHL debut Thursday night. Priskie was the first South-Florida born and raised player to play for the Panthers. C Noel Acciari is on the long-term injured reserve and is several weeks away from a return to the ice.
The Hurricanes will be without top-defender Brett Pesce, who left Thursday’s game with an undisclosed injury. Pesce is a crucial part of the Canes blueline and his absence will sting the Canes. The Canes will also be without W Nino Niederriter, who has been great in his time as a Cane, and is currently week-to-week with a lower-body injury.
BETWEEN THE PIPES
The Hurricanes are expected to roll with G Frederik Andersen, who along with the injured Bobrovsky, is one of the early season-favorites to win the Veznia Trophy. The former Leaf has been a party in 8 of Carolina’s 9 games this season, with a perfect 8-0-0 record, 1.50 GAA, .949 SVPCT and a shutout. In 17 career appearances against the Panthers, he is 10-3-2, posting a .913 save percentage, 2.67 GAA and a shutout. His backup will be Antti Raanta, who only has one appearance this season, with a 1-0-0 record, a .885 SVPCT and a GAA of 3.00.
The Panthers will once again give 20 year old Spencer Knight the ropes in a clutch situation. Knight had arguably the worst game of his NHL career so far Thursday night, coming in cold for Sergei Bobrovsky, allowing 4 goals and saving 25/29 shots in about 42 minutes of ice time. Knight will have the comfort of a complete game-day preparation for a start. In 4 appearances this season (3 starts), he is 3-0-1, with a 2.65 GAA and a .912 SVPCT. Knight is a very poised goalie, but often struggles when not consistently tested. He has yet to face the Canes in his NHL career. His backup will be Christopher Gibson, who was called up from Charlotte (AHL). Signed as a free agent from Tampa, the 28-year old Finn has 16 games of NHL experience, a 4-5-3 record with a .901 SVPCT and a 3.33 GAA.
The Canes have a deadly offense. My guy to watch is a familiar face, former Panther Vincent Trocheck. Trocheck was traded to the Canes at the 2020 trade deadline and has made the Panthers pay in his time as a Hurricane, scoring 6 goals and 3 assists in 8 games against the Panthers last season, as well as probably ruining his friendship with Mackenzie Weegar. Trocheck’s absence would be replaced eventually by Sam Bennett, but Bennett is out tonight. Aside from Trocheck, the Canes have a very potent offense with Sebastian Aho, Tuevo Teravainen, Andrei Svechnikov, Martin Necas and rookie Seth Jarvis. They have a solid two-way presence too, as Jordan Staal will likely be sent to battle Aleksander Barkov again. Staal’s ability to shut down the Panthers captain was a key reason why the Canes got points in all eight games last year against the Panthers. The Canes also have Jesperi Kotkaniemi who is a solid two-way player, who they got as an offer-sheet in a continuous beef with Montreal.
The Hurricanes have a solid defense, despite losing Dougie Hamilton. Pesce’s loss will be a key factor though, which could help the Panthers take advantage of that. Jaccob Slavin is the team’s #1 defender, and has emerged as the league’s most underrated defender. Ethan Bear has seen success in Carolina. When not fighting his teammates or acting like a clown w/ a burner account on twitter, Tony DeAngelo is a very good offensive defenseman. Brady Skjei and Ian Cole provide solid depth, and Brendan Smith slides in for the injured Pesce. Despite being a clone of the New York Rangers 2018-19 defense, this team’s blueline is very good.
Carolina is scoring 4.11 goals a game (2nd), allowing 1.67 goals a game (1st), 26.5% PP (5th) and 90.2% PK (3rd)
Andrei Svechnikov leads the team in goals and points w/ 7 goals and 13 points. DeAngelo’s 8 assists lead the team in that category.
Projected Lineup: 48 Martinnook-20 Aho-86 Teravainen; 37 Svechnikov-16 Trocheck-88 Necas; 82 Kotkaniemi-11 Staal (C)-71 Fast; 78 Lorentz-18 Stepan-24 Jarvis// 74 Slavin-25 Bear; 76 Skjei-77 DeAngelo; 28 Cole-7 Smith// 31 Andersen (32 Raanta)
The Panthers have perhaps one of the only offenses that can keep up with the Canes. Aleksander Barkov has been stellar and is red hot, scoring 5 goals during Brunette’s 3 game tenure so far. Barkov has a three-game goal streak and a five-game point streak. Jonathan Huberdeau has a 7 game point-streak and a 7-game assist streak. Aside from Barkov and Huberdeau, the Panthers offense is pretty lethal w/ weapons like Sam Reinhart, Anthony Duclair and Carter Verhaeghe. Florida’s two-way forward play is excellent with Barkov and rookie Anton Lundell leading the way in that category, but guys like Verhaeghe and Mason Marchment are excellent defensively.
Aaron Ekblad is having a fantastic season on the blueline after recovering from a severe-lower body injury and is playing like nothing happened. Ekblad’s 4 goals lead NHL defenders. Gustav Forsling’s 9 assists lead NHL defenders too. The Panthers game is very two-way centered, focused on establishing a fast rush and working as a team and the blueline is no different. Mackenzie Weegar, Forsling, Ekblad and Brandon Montour serve as Florida’s key two-way defenders, with Radko Gudas and Kevin Connauton serving duties in the defensive zone.
Florida is scoring 4.10 goals a game (3rd), allowing 2.10 goals a game (2nd), 21.2% powerplay (15th) and 86.8% PK (7th).
Huberdeau and Barkov share the team lead in points with 12, with Barkov’s 7 goals leading the club, while Huberdeau and Gustav Forsling share the lead in apples at 9 a pop.
Projected Lineup: 23 Verhaeghe-16 Barkov (C)-10 Duclair; 11 Huberdeau-13 Reinhart-74 Tippett; 17 Marchment-15 Lundell-98 Mamin; 77 Vatrano-27 Luostarinen-70 Hornqvist// 52 Weegar-5 Ekblad; 42 Forsling-7 Gudas; 44 Connauton-62 Montour// 30 Knight (31 Gibson)