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PANTHERS (0-0-0) at STARS (0-0-0)
TV: FS-F, FS-SW
Season series: While many teams open the season against bitter rivals or divisional foes, that won't be the case on Thursday in Dallas. The Panthers and Stars rarely face one another, with their last matchup coming nearly two years ago on Nov. 15, 2011. The Panthers dominated that encounter, winning 6-0 behind a three-point night from Kris Versteeg and a 25-save shutout performance from Scott Clemmensen. This is the first of two matchups in 2013-14, with the other coming in Florida on April 6.
Big story: Which of these underachieving teams from 2012-13 will get off to a fast start this time around? Though unfamiliar with one another, Florida and Dallas have more in common than either might like to admit. The Panthers and Stars each finished at the bottom of their respective divisions in 2012-13, and both enter this campaign in an arguably tougher group thanks to realignment. With competitive conference slates on the horizon for these squads, expect a battle in an opener both feel they should win.
Panthers: After dropping to last in the Southeast Division in 2012-13 following their first-place finish in 2012-13, the Panthers spent the summer re-committing to youth in the form of 2012-13 Calder Trophy winner Jonathan Huberdeau and highly-rated rookies Nick Bjugstad and Aleksander Barkov. With the season nearing, however, management hustled to add a few savvy veterans to aid the development of that young talent. The Panthers signed Tim Thomas, Brad Boyes and Tom Gilbert off professional tryout contracts, and all are expected in the Panthers' lineup against the Stars.
Though he was signed as late as Sept. 26, Thomas immediately becomes the most intriguing storyline in south Florida. The Panthers were by far the NHL's worst in goals-allowed per game (3.54), and neither Jacob Markstrom nor Scott Clemmensen – who split time in net this past season – made a convincing case in the preseason for the starting role. Thomas, who won the Conn Smythe Trophy and Stanley Cup with Boston in 2011, is back in the NHL after taking a year off and should give Florida confidence as they head into a realigned Atlantic Division packed with perennial postseason contenders.
"Tim has really established himself with our team and our organization within a short period of time," Florida coach Kevin Dineen told the Miami Herald. "[Thomas] is a good guy and a real solid player for us right now. He's a great option for us on Thursday night."
Stars: After five seasons out of the playoff picture, Dallas made big changes this offseason both on the ice and in the front office. The Stars named Jim Nill general manager and hired longtime Buffalo Sabres pillar Lindy Ruff as coach. In an attempt to revive a slumping offense, Dallas brought forwards Tyler Seguin and Rich Peverley from Boston. The Stars also added veteran defenseman Sergei Gonchar to help aid the progress of blue-line prospects Brenden Dillon and Jamie Oleksiak.
Seguin has the potential to be the face of this new Stars franchise, which will also debut a re-designed logo on Thursday night. The 21-year-old is likely to line up in his natural center position alongside All-Star center Jamie Benn, who was recently named captain. Seguin led Dallas in the preseason with a goal and six assists.
Injury report: Florida's Kris Versteeg missed six months after undergoing knee surgery in March, but the star forward played the final two preseason games and has been cleared to start against the Stars. Winger Sean Bergenheim (abdominal) is questionable, while right wing Steven Pinizzotto (hip) is expected back in early November. Bjugstad (concussion) and defenseman Ed Jovanovski (hip) are on injured reserve. … For Dallas, defensemen Aaron Rome (hip) and Trevor Daley (neck) are questionable, as is Peverley (irregular heartbeat). Winger Scott Glennie (knee) is out indefinitely.