Florida Panthers (0-0-0) at Dallas Stars (0-0-0), 8:30 pm ET
The Florida Panthers’ 2013-14 gets underway tonight as the team travels to Texas to take on the Dallas Stars at 8:30 pm at the American Airlines Center.
The Panthers want to come out of the gate fast this season as a good start will help put last year’s disaster firmly in the rearview mirror. Despite the universally low expectations from around the league, there is a feeling of excitement and optimism in Florida. That feeling is a result of the Panthers new owner, Vincent Viola, and the commitment to winning that he claims will be the foundation of his ownership.
The Panthers have also brought in some new faces on the ice. Goalie Tim Thomas is the most notable of these additions but in the last week the team has also signed veteran forward Brad Boyes, traded for the rough and tumble Krys Barch and signed veteran defensemen Tom Gilbert and Ryan Whitney.
Tim Thomas will get the start in net for the Panthers and we can expect to see Boyes and Gilbert in the lineup. Whitney and Barch, who have had little to no practice time with the team, will probably end up being healthy scratches.
There will be a number of other players making their Panther debuts tonight in Dallas. First rounder (3rd overall) Aleksander Barkov will make his NHL debut at just 18 years of age while veterans F Jesse Winchester, F Joey Crabb, F Scott Gomez, and D Matt Gilroy will all experience their Panther initiations.
Like the Panthers, the Stars are trying to bounce back from a tough 2012-13 season. Last year Dallas competed for a playoff spot but ultimately finished 11th in the Western Conference. Unlike the Panthers, who took a conservative approach to the off season, the Stars had a busy few summer months starting with the dismissal of GM Joe Nieuwendyk. Nieuwendyk was replaced in April by Jim Nill. Nill emphatically put his stamp on the team in July when he executed a blockbuster trade with the Bruins. The trade sent Loui Eriksson and fringe players Joe Morrow, Reilly Smith and Matt Fraser to Boston in exchange for Tyler Seguin, Rich Peverley and Ryan Button.
Tonight’s game will feature a matchup of 18 year old rookies playing in their first NHL games. For the Panthers that player is Aleksander Barkov, while the Stars have Valeri Nichushkin, the teams first round pick (10th overall) in the 2013 NHL Entry Draft. Another youngster to watch out for on the Stars roster is Alex Chiasson. The 23 year old scored six goals in seven games during his brief stint with Dallas last season.
In net for the Stars will be Kari Lehtonen. The 29 year old Finnish netminder was solid last season with a 2.66 GAA and .916 SV% while accumulating 15 wins in 35 games started.
This is the first game of the Panthers 82 game season. During that time there will be ups and downs, there will be surprises, there will be moments that make you cringe and there will be moments that take your breath away. Right now we are standing on the precipice of what we can be sure will be a highly eventful season. Despite all the Panthers doomsayers out there, what lies at the other end of the team’s 82 game schedule is still an unknown. Tonight could be the beginning of something special or it could be the start of another six month slog in South Florida.