The Florida Panthers will play the second half of their home-and-home series with the Tampa Bay Lightning tonight. The first game was a wacky 5-4 shootout win for the Panthers on Saturday night, but this game ought to have a much different feel to it.
I say this because the two teams will have very different line-ups tonight, considering the last meeting was only two nights ago.
Let’s get the very big news out of the way first: Aleksander Barkov will return to the ice tonight, much to the relief of all Panthers fans. His defensive game and offensive creativity have been sorely missed during the last few weeks. It’ll be interesting to see who Gerard Gallant skates with Barkov, but I bet he’ll find a way to return Jaromir Jagr and Jonthan Huberdeau to his wings. The three just have such a great rapport.
Not all the injury news is good news for the Panthers, however. Dmitry Kulikov will sit this game out, as he’s sidelined for the next week or so with a lower body injury. Steven Kampfer will fill Kulikov’s spot on the blue line and pair with Alex Petrovic. It’ll be an interesting dynamic between the two, since Petrovic beat out Kampfer for the sixth defenseman role at the season’s beginning. Kampfer has only played in one game so far this season, and it was an utterly forgettable game for him against the Chicago Blackhawks. He’ll have a chance for redemption if he perform well against another tough team in the Lightning.
But the Tampa Bay Lightning are not all the way healthy themselves — far from it. Like last game, Ondrej Palat will be out of commission. But joining him will be forwards Tyler Johnson, Cedric Paquette, and Jonathan Drouin. It’s a big offensive hit for the Lightning by losing Johnson, and a big drop in the team’s depth by losing two-thirds of its fourth line. The Lightning have called up Mike Blunden and Jonathan Marchessault from the AHL, and Matt Taormina will be activated from the healthy scratch list. It’ll be worth it to see how much ice time and responsibility that Lightning coach Jon Cooper will give to this makeshift fourth line.
But outside of the those missing players, the Lightning still have offense to burn. Steven Stamkos was extremely active in Saturday’s game especially skating with Vladislav Namestnikov. Ryan Callahan will skate on the right wing with that duo, and Valtteri Filppula will be the second line center in Johnson’s absence. Alex Killorn and Nikita Kucherov are extremely dangerous in their own right, and will most likely skate with Filppula. Don’t make the mistake of sleeping on this Lightning offense, despite the injuries to the forward group.
The goaltending duel will also have a wrinkle. Instead of Ben Bishop in net, Cooper will opt for Andrei Vasilevskiy. But unfortunately for the Panthers, Vasilevskiy is a budding star himself, and not necessarily a step down from Bishop. Vasilevskiy still has great size (6’3″, 207 lbs) and good stats (.924 SV%, 2.37 GAA), and it’ll be a challenge to beat him. Roberto Luongo will start for the Panthers for the fifth straight game. The Lightning had plenty of trouble solving him when he wasn’t falling down or passing the puck to Lightning players. I’m a little surprised that Al Montoya wouldn’t start one of the games in a home-and-home series, but Gallant might sense Luongo is starting to heat up again.
With or without goaltending, the key once again for the Panthers is to find a way to score. The Law of Three Goals still applies for the Panthers: if they reach three goals, they’ve gotten two points every time. You know the Lightning will be itching to get a win from their rivals after squandering the first game, so don’t expect them to lay down in Sunrise tonight. The Panthers will have to get another good team performance to win.
But here’s some bizarre and welcome news:
What beer are we drinkin’? I tried this yesterday and I wasn’t unsatisfied: Blue Moon Gingerbread Spiced Ale. It’s starting to feel a lot like Christmas, as the song goes. This beer tastes like Christmas was ground up in a blender and carbonated. This seasonal offering from Blue Moon tastes very much like it sounds. There’s a heavy gingerbread and molasses flavor at first, and it fades into more Christmas spice-y flavors on the palate. It has some heavy flavor, so it’s not ideal to pound during a Christmas party, but its seasonal to be sure.
What song are we singin’? “Tyler” – Toadies. Tyler is the second good song off the Toadies’ Rubberneck album, the other being “Possum Kingdom”. They were two of the best songs to come out of the grunge-era 90s, but strangely enough the band had trouble getting the most out of their songs: neither song featured the song’s title in the lyrics, making it difficult for a pre-internet music fan to actually know what song they were listening to. But we have the internet now, so we can appreciate Rubberneck as much as we want.