Florida Panthers 6-4-2 (14 PTS) vs Tampa Bay Lightning 6-5-2 (14 PTS)
Opponent Site: Bolts By The Bay
When the Florida Panthers last saw the Tampa Bay Lightning, Jason Garrison’s blast on a 5-on-3 put the finishing touches on a 7-4 Panthers win on October 17th. That loss pushed Tampa‘s early record to 1-4-1, but the it appears that the Lightning have used that humiliating home loss as a wake-up call. Since then, the Bolts have gone 5-2 and moved them even with the Panthers for the 8th spot in the Eastern Conference.
With a roster as talent-laden as theirs, the Lightning run is not much of a surprise. They still possess one of the most lethal 1-2 combos in the league in Steven Stamkos and the ageless Martin St. Louis. Since the home loss to the Panthers, Stamkos has scored seven goal in as many games, including a hat-trick last time out against the Chicago Blackhawks. St Louis has been the guy feeding him the puck in those seven games as he’s recorded eight assists in the same span. After a hot playoff run, Vinny Lecavalier has picked up this where left off, scoring six goals (11 pts total) in the early going. Those three playing well is bad news for much of the league as we saw last year how potent they can be when that’s the case. And you better not take many penalties against them as a Stamkos-Vinny-Marty power play line is as deadly as there is. Add them to a resurgent Marc-Andre Bergeron, the league’s top point producing defenseman, and it’s not hard to see how the Bolts are fifth in the league in goals per game at 3.08. The Cats might want to pay particular close attention to Bergeron, who’s recorded five points in two games against them his year.
For as good as they are putting the puck in opposing nets, keeping it out of theirs is still a huge problem for this team. Dwayne Roloson, who was so instrumental in their run to the Eastern Conference Finals, has been shaky this season, posting a 3-3-1 record with 3.17 GAA and an .886 save %. I don’t care how many goals you’re capable of scoring, you won’t go far in the postseason with those numbers. One of the saving graces for head coach Guy Boucher, has been the play of Mathieu Garon, who has been far better statistically than Roloson with a 3-2-1 record, 2.43 GAA and .921 save %. But realistically, if Tampa has ambitions of repeating last season’s success, GM Steve Yzerman may have to make a big move between the pipes.
For the Panthers, the problems of the Lightning are the reverse of their own. The Cats have been the beneficiaries of strong goaltending thanks to Jose Theodore and rookie Jacob Markstrom. Theodore has been steady while the younger Markstrom has been spectacular much of the time, including an impressive performance in Thursday’s shootout loss to Chicago. The performance of Markstrom has left Scott Clemmensen, who won his rehab start in San Antonio last night, as the possible odd man out.
The problem for Cats has been scoring, or at least scoring from someone other than the first line or defensemen. Through 12 games, those players have produced 22 goals, while the other three lines have contributed only eight. While there have been some encouraging signs (Scottie Upshall had his most aggressive game on Thursday), but let’s be honest, twelve games is far too late along to be looking for encouraging signs. Guys need to start scoring and it needs to start today. The plan for success for this year’s Panthers relied heavily on all four lines contributing to the scoring. Without that type of balance, this teams looks like many years from this team’s recent history: Strong goaltending, no scoring. Quite frankly, this teams is too good to have this same fate. Hard to say what coach Kevin Dineen can do to get these guys back on their game.
– No word on the starting goalies at this time (Edit: It’s been announced it’s Theodore vs Garon), although the Lightning twitter feed is suggesting the Bolts will have seven d-men in the lineup.
– The Panthers will wear their blue third jerseys tonight for the first time this regular season. According to the team, they will wear them on Sundays this season.
– This is the third meeting between the teams so far this season. By the time the calender turns to December, they will have played five of their six meetings. The last one will be played in February. Hard to develop a better rivalry with a team when you don’t play any meaningful games down the stretch.
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Tags: Dwayne Roloson Florida Panthers Guy Boucher Jacob Marcstrom Jose Thedore Kevin Dineen Marc-andre Bergeron Martin St.louis Mathieu Garon Scottie Upshall Steve Yzerman Steven Stamkos Tampa Bay Lightning Vinny Lecavalier