Florida Panthers Gameday #17: Before I Sputter Out

Oct 3, 2015; Sunrise, FL, USA; Florida Panthers right wing Jaromir Jagr (68) battles for position as Tampa Bay Lightning defenseman Nikita Nesterov (89) defends in the second period at BB&T Center. Mandatory Credit: Robert Mayer-USA TODAY Sports

The Florida Panthers face a familar foe tonight in the Tampa Bay Lightning.  Besides the normal rivalry affair between these two teams, tonight’s match at Amalie Arena in Tampa will be interesting for another reason: both teams have been disappointing so far this season.

There’s plenty wrong with the Panthers that my colleagues or I have already shed light on:  The offense has been slight and inconsistent.  The defense has often been fine, but sometimes has looked weak, and not very dangerous on the offensive end.  The goaltending has been simply great for almost the entire season: don’t look Luongo’s way if you want to ascribe blame.  Gerard Gallant’s strategies… I guess have gone over my head.

If Aleksander Barkov can come back tonight though, then the Panthers could be cooking with gas.  His defensive abilities are huge to allow players like Nick Bjugstad and Vincent Trocheck to focus on their offensive games, and his passing skills with Jaromir Jagr and Jonathan Huberdeau can jolt scoring opportunities out of nothing.  Barkov can be the biggest Panther in any zone, but the Panthers just need to get him back in the line-up.  According to Gerard Gallant, he could be ready to play tonight but maybe we should expect to return on Monday instead of today.  The sooner the better, but he is skating with the team tonight.

The Panthers could go to either Roberto Luongo or Al Montoya tonight in goal.  Considering Luongo’s tough start against the Buffalo Sabres on Thursday, I might lean a little more to Montoya if I were to guess.  But I assume Gallant will let Montoya get one of these games in the home-and-home series against the Lightning.

In Tampa, the Lightning are maybe dealing with one of those patented “Eastern Conference Champion hangovers”.  Nothing appears as solid as it did last season for a team that did almost everything well.  The Lightning have scored fewer goals than the Panthers this year with two extra games (their 2.33 GF/GP is 24th in the NHL).  Compared to their league-leading 3.16 GF/GP last year, the Lightning have lost a little voltage, if you don’t mind my pun.  Ondrej Palat won’t be able to help the cause tonight: he’s out for the next couple weeks with a lower-body injury.  But Steven Stamkos, Victor Hedman, Tyler Johnson, Nikita Kucherov, and Ryan Callahan have gone nowhere, unfortunately.  That group could explode for five Lightning goals on any given night.

In goal for the Lightning is the unfairly large Ben Bishop.  His 6’7″ frame has served him well so far this year, as he has accrued a solid 2.15 GAA and .924 SV%.  And with players like Hedman and Anton Stralman playing lights-out in the defensive squad, it will be a huge challenge for the Panthers to get three goals at Amalie Arena.

The Lightning were a total behemoth last year, dominating on the scoreboard and on the stats sheet.  Not much has changed for Tampa Bay, but the team looks a little more vulnerable when it’s having trouble finding the twine.  The Florida Panthers could use a big win tonight to jolt their season back to life.

What beer are we drinkin’?  Long Table Farmhouse Ale from New Belgium Brewing.  I’m an avowed fan of New Belgium, who makes some of the best beer out there without loading up at all on the price.  Tonight I’m going a little out of season by choosing Long Table, which is a “saison”.  If you like wheat beers you might like saisons, which have a good wheat body but have more spice and fruit flavors.  Long Table is a very approachable version of the style, and is certainly worth a taste if you’d like to expand your horizons.

What song are we singin’?  “Novocaine for the Soul” – The Eels.  Not much to say except this is a very cool song, and one of the big MTV alt-rock hits of the mid-90s.  The Florida Panthers could use something before they sputter out.