Those Florida Panthers used to resemble something much closer to a house cat and have for about, oh, the last ten years. But after a wild spending spree on July 1st, GM Dale Tallon has turned this team into a group that can compete and put up some victories, something they’ve done so far this season. Tonight, after a 5-4 overtime loss in Tampa the day previous, the Calgary Flames tangle with Florida for the only time this season (5:30 pm, Sportsnet West and Sportsnet 960).
Thursday’s loss to the Lightning was one where you didn’t like a lot of what you saw yet you came away also liking lots of what you saw. It was just that bizarre a game. What is clear, however, is Calgary’s second period was unacceptable and put them too far behind the eight ball heading into the third period. The Flames deserve credit for fighting back and tying things, and they were dominant for most of the third period, which is kind of why it was tough to tell if the glass was half full or half empty last night.
The Flames have made the decision to sit Mikael Backlund and Brett Carson for tonight’s game, inserting Roman Horak and Cory Sarich respectively in their place. I’m not sure I quite get the logic behind either, especially Backlund, who has been very good in his 17 games since returning to the lineup. Watching him drive the play north and set up Calgary’s other lines has impressed me, even if his points haven’t been there, with just three so far.
Carson has played a pair of games since returning to the lineup and has been okay. Nothing special, nothing great, so this one isn’t as bothersome. Sarich hasn’t played in a while, so getting him back in isn’t the worst thing in the world either. Granted, he hasn’t been very good when he has played, but when playing with eight defenceman, having a rotation makes a little bit of sense. These are just guesses and lines and pairings:
Curtis Glencross-Olli Jokinen-Jarome Iginla
Alex Tanguay-Brendan Morrison-Rene Bourque
Blake Comeau-Roman Horak-Lee Stempniak
Tom Kostopoulos-Matt Stajan-Tim Jackman
Jay Bouwmeester-Chris Butler
T.J. Brodie-Scott Hannan
Derek Smith-Cory Sarich
It’s the first start in the young NHL career of Leland Irving tonight, as the former first round pick will see his first action with the Flames tonight. After playing his first full season as an unquestioned number one in the American Hockey League last year, Irving had put up similar numbers to start this year prior to the knee injury suffered by Henrik Karlsson. Irving won’t make or break his NHL tenure tonight, and I believe he’ll get another start before 2011 is up.
Florida legitimately leads the Southeast Division with 38 points which also puts them third in the Eastern Conference heading into action tonight. While no one is going to consider them a conference powerhouse, it would also be unwise to dismiss the Panthers as an early season fluke, because they’re a group who can skate with most opposition on any given night.
None of their numbers will floor you, underlying or otherwise. But then again, there’s nothing markedly bad on this team either, which is why you’re looking at a competitive team. They spend a decent amount of time in the offensive end while also getting decent goaltending as teams accumulate shots on them. Jose Theodore has seen the bulk of action in net with a very nice .932 even strength save percentage thus far and he’s proven to be a fairly solid offseason acquisition.
Tomas Fleischmann-Stephen Weiss-Kris Versteeg
Sean Bergenheim-Shawn Matthias-Mikael Samuelsson
Marco Sturm-Tomas Kopecky-Jack Skille
Matt Bradley-Mike Santorelli-Krys Barch
Ed Jovanovski-Erik Gudbranson
Jason Garrison-Brian Campbell
Dmitry Kulikov-Mike Weaver
Head Coach Kevin Dineen has gotten good work out of his third line, with all three guys seeing a lot of defensive zone faceoffs, doing a decent job of setting up the lines ahead of them on the chart in the process. That’s allowed Weiss et al to see slightly more time at the other end of the ice where they’ve put up numbers. Lead by Versteeg’s team high 33 points, Florida’s top line has combined for 94 points this season.
The Panthers are also without two helpful forwards, with Marcel Goc on the shelf indefinitely thanks to a concussion suffered in November. Off season signing Scottie Upshall could be back in January as he continues to recover from a hip injury suffered at the beginning of last month.
Calgary and Florida are fairly comparable teams when you look at their makeup. However, the Panthers have been able to win on a whole lot more of a regular basis so far this season. If both teams come to play, I think we’re in store for a fairly entertaining hockey game between two teams that don’t know each other very well. From a Flames perspective, lets just see them avoid the wild swings of play we saw 24 hours prior.