Florida Panthers Gameday #4: No More Waiting


Jan 2, 2015; Buffalo, NY, USA; Florida Panthers center Vincent Trocheck (21) makes a pass to right wing Scottie Upshall (19) during the third period against the Buffalo Sabres at First Niagara Center. Florida beats Buffalo 2 to 0. Mandatory Credit: Timothy T. Ludwig-USA TODAY Sports

The Florida Panthers are back in Sunrise tonight looking for another win, this time against the retooled Buffalo Sabres.

Managing a 4-0-1 record last season against Buffalo, the Panthers will look to repeat their success against their Atlantic Division rivals.  However, they won’t find points as easily against the Sabres as they did in the past.  No longer tanking for a high draft pick, the Sabres are prepared to move forward with what they have.  Ryan O’Reilly, Evander Kane, and especially 18-year-old Jack Eichel now lead the offensive charge for Buffalo, and head coach Dan Byslma knows what to do with his young forwards.  The Sabres are absolutely a dangerous team.

But the goaltending situation for the Sabres is sub-optimal.  Robin Lehner injured his ankle on Opening Night and is out for 6-10 weeks.  Ergo, career backup Chad Johnson has the keys to the net for the foreseeable future.  So far, he’s struggling to get set: over 3 games he has amassed an .891 SV% and 2.78 GAA.  But Johnson is a big guy at 6’3″, so he won’t give the Panthers too much space in the net to shoot at.  Goalie screens and lateral puck movement is in order for Florida.

And on the other side of the ice, Roberto Luongo will return to the starting line-up for the Florida Panthers.  Al Montoya spelled him two nights ago in Raleigh and delivered a great performance, but Luongo will have to deliver one himself against a talented Sabres offense.  The Panthers goalies are off to a smooth start to the season so far, giving up only one goal in each game.  It’s up to Luongo to keep that goaltending streak alive.

At this point, there isn’t much for the Panthers to change.  Perhaps coach Gerard Gallant will slip Shawn Thornton back onto the fourth line instead of Quinton Howden, but considering how good the fourth line looked against Carolina, I doubt a change will take place.

The Sabres will be without talented defenseman and aspiring DJ Zach Bogosian because of a “lower-body injury”.  Forward Brian Gionta has been dealing with a lower-body injury of his own, but the team captain might be able to squeeze into the Sabres’ line-up.

Panther to watch: Nick Bjugstad.  Bjugstad scored three goals in his five games against the Sabres last year, and scored a goal on Tuesday to boot.  All signs point to a big game for him and his line, especially if the Sabres attempt to match their best defensive squad against the Jagr/Barkov/Huberdeau top line.

Sabre to watch: Jack Eichel.  This was an easy choice, and he’ll be the “Sabre to watch” for years to come as well.  He has some sick skills, and has already scored two goals in three games to start the season.  If you want a taste of his unfair talent, here you go.

What beer are we drinkin’?  Hop Gun, Funky Buddha Brewery.  It’s still warm enough here in South Florida that it is completely excusable to drink summer beers, especially if you’re not digging all these damn pumpkin beers that are being released.  If it means I have to reach back in time a few months to relive the glory days of IPAs, you know I will.  Hop Gun is brewed right down the street in Oakland Park, and is a pleasant mouthful of hops.  I distinctly remember I had this beer the last time I had Buffalo wings (hence the choice for this rendition), and luckily for pumpkin-haters is brewed all year-long.

What song are we singin’?  “I’m Waiting For The Man” – The Velvet Underground.  The Buffalo Sabres have been waiting for their man for years, and it looks like they finally have him in Jack Eichel.  Not that there’s anything wrong with Maxim Afinogenov or Tim Connelly, but Eichel is “The Man”.

Next: Florida Panthers: 3 Keys to Making the Postseason

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