It was a much needed win for the Panthers Saturday night. Playing at home following a pair of one goal losses, they desperately needed some positives to fall back on. The 2-1 shootout win against Minnesota was just what the doctor ordered. For the second game in a row the Panthers tied the game after trailing in the 3rd period as second overall pick Aleksander Barkov redirected Tomas Fleischmann's power play shot past Josh Harding.
Positive 1. Tim Thomas looked like his Vezina winning self from two years ago.
Positive 2. Jonathan Huberdeau (shootout game-winner) and Barkov scored, again showing these two young forwards are stars in the making.
Positive 3. They proved they're a much better shootout team than year's past.
Positive 4. Thomas's attitude. Before the game he told his teammates, "I'm tired of losing." The guy is legit in every way.
Positive 5. Now 1-1 on the season-long 6-game home stand.
The Panthers prepare for the defending Stanley Cup champion Chicago Blackhawks as they face off Tuesday night. They'll need all hands on deck to beat Chicago but if they can pull out a win, the positive vibes will really be flowing.
We start the coverage at 7 p.m. Tuesday on FOX Sports Florida, with face off at 7:30 p.m. It will be interesting to watch Thomas, who has now stopped 67 of 71 shots over the last two games, face Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane and the rest of the Blackhawks.
It's game day here in Nashville as the Panthers play the Predators tonight at 8pm on Fox Sports Florida. Jacob Markstrom starts in goal again, as Tim Thomas appears ready to play Thursday at home against his former team, the Boston Bruins.
Big center Nick Bjugstad looks like he will make his season debut tonight. He suffered a concussion during training camp. Now healthy, he brings size and a right handed presence to the lineup. Bjugstad played in 11 games last season after spending three years at the University of Minnesota. He should play with Krys Barch and Tomas Kopecky tonight.
The Panthers would love to grab a win here as they head home for a 6-game home stand against some of the NHL's top teams like Boston and defending Stanley Cup Champs Chicago. Nashville plays a defensive style of hockey so this may be a low scoring grind-it-out type of game. It also features and intriguing teenage matchup between Florida's Aleksander Barkov and the Predators' Seth Jones. They were both drafted in June and Nashville thought they'd end up with Barkov at No. 4 but the Panthers surprised many and selected the big center 2nd overall. Jones, the top rated defenseman in the draft went 4th.
Tonight, it's the first ever matchup between these two talents who are years ahead of their age as players. I have a 1-on-1 interview with Nashville's GM David Poile about the two players and also discuss the Olympics with him.
Poile is GM of Team USA and is in charge of selecting the team that will play in the Winter Games in Sochi, Russia in February. I have a vested interest in the team as I will be going to the Games to do radio play-by-play for Westwood One radio network. My on-air partner will be former Panthers defenseman Bret Hedican.
That's the latest today from Music City.
Florida Panthers TV Play-by-Play
CBS 4 Miami Sports/SportsBang
WINZ Radio 940am Morning Host
The Panthers young players have been impressive early in the season. While the team has had some frustrating inconsistencies, I've been very impressed and encouraged by a number of players.
Aleksander Barkov has been strong on his skates and is already contributing offensively at age 18. I can imagine what he's going to be like in a few years. He could be that top line "big horse" center the Panthers have been looking for.
Jonathan Huberdeau has shown his offensive instincts with some skilled goals and passes but what's really impressed me is the way he's handled himself. In the home opener we saw Huberdeau get physical with Penguins Defenseman Brooks Orpik then jawed nose to nose with him. Showing a physical side of his game is huge for a young offensive player. That kind of reputation gets around the league quickly.
In goal, Jacob Markstrom has been solid. He came in off the bench when Tim Thomas got hurt in Philadelphia and shut out the Flyers for 52 minutes. A loss suffered in Tampa was as much a result of the team's performance as the goalie's. Markstrom then played well in the home opener, beating the Penguins and wasn't the problem against Los Angeles on Sunday.
Defenseman Erik Gudbranson is still feeling his way but the 21-year old defenseman is playing physical hockey and skating well. Gudbranson is one of those guys that hates to lose and that's what I love about him.
These four players will be major factors moving forward for the Panthers and their starts to the season have been encouraging. Meanwhile, Vincent Trocheck has gotten off to a nice start to his professional career in San Antonio (AHL). Nick Bjugstad is recovered from his concussion and the big center is ready to hit the ice. The Panthers college players have started well too with Rocco Grimaldi at North Dakota picking up five points in two games against Vermont and goalie Sam Brittain at Denver posting shut outs in two games against Merrimack. Recent draft pick Chris Clapperton is averaging almost two points a game in the QMJHL, and sits second in the league in scoring with 21 points in 11 games.
Victories now at the NHL level are the most important aspect but I have my eye in what's coming up for the Panthers.