The name is the same. The opponents? Not so much.
The Panthers first began playing in the NHL in the Atlantic Division and on Thursday it was announced they would be returning to the same named division. Unlike their first go around (from 1993-98) however, most of their opponents won't be the same.
In 1993, division foes consisted of the Flyers, Devils, Capitals, Rangers, Lightning and Islanders. Fast forward 20 years and the only team that remains is the cross-state rival Lightning. The other teams, who will now reside in the newly named Metropolitan Division will be replaced by the old Northeast teams (Bruins, Sabres, Canadiens, Senators and Maple Leafs) along with the Detroit Red Wings.
The Cats will face off against some of the oldest teams in the league. Four of them, in fact, are a part of the Original Six in the Bruins, Canadiens, Leafs and Wings. A challenge indeed but for head coach Kevin Dineen, the challenge is always changing no matter what division you're playing in.
"Every year it's different dynamics. You look at Montreal two years ago. You look at Toronto, struggled (for a while) and they had some real positive things happen last year and were able to turn things around in a fairly quick manner," said Dineen to the South Florida media following the release of the 2013-14 schedule. "(Detroit is) going to be very excited getting into the Eastern Conference. It's something they've been looking to do for years and years. Here they are positioned with a lot of quality hockey teams."
The way the schedule is set up, as Dineen points out, one doesn't have to go no further than the road trip to open the season to see the caliber of opponents that Florida is hit with in the opening month.
"For me, I look at the start," said Dineen. "We go Dallas, St Louis, Philadelphia. None of those teams are in our division but you know what. Dallas has gotten better this summer. St Louis who had a really quality regular season last year. Philly has done some things to get better so no matter whether you're in division or not, the road is not easy.
"That's fine. That's our expectations."
That trip, while with it's own challenges is also seen as a blessing for the Panthers bench boss.
"I love the idea of starting on the road. I just think that really the good things for our team," said Dineen. "We're under different circumstances than we were a couple of years ago but still really like the idea that you got a good break between our last exhibition game and our first regular season game. Get out on the road, spend some quality time together and come back home to finish October strong."
82 games; 30 against division opponents, including five against the Wings and reigning Eastern Conference Champion Bruins. It should make for an intense battle as eight teams are battling anywhere from three to five available playoff spots come April.
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