Carolina Hurricanes vs. Florida Panthers
BankAtlantic Center, 7:30 p.m.
TV: FS-Carolinas, FS-Florida
The long wait is finally over and the much anticipated 2013 season will begin tonight for the Carolina Hurricanes. Carolina comes into this season with a new-look offense and greater expectations than they've had in a few years. It's definitely an exciting time to be a Hurricanes fan right now, as there are a lot of rumblings about this team making a strong playoff push and maybe even a division championship. Before we begin to think about that, the Canes have some business to take care of the next few months and it starts tonight with a showdown against the defending Southeast Division champions in the Florida Panthers.
Regardless of what happens tonight, I'm sure the fans will be happy just that the NHL is back, after it looked like we may not have a season this year. Many of us have turned to other outlets to get our hockey fixes, but it's hard to match the thrill and excitement that the NHL brings night in and night out. Plus, Carolina fans will finally get to see Jordan Staal and Alexander Semin in regular season action for the Hurricanes, which is going to be a treat no matter what.
We'll take a closer look at these two teams and talk about possible matchups after the jump.
Boychuk – E. Staal – Semin
Skinner – J. Staal – Dalpe
Tlusty – Jokinen – LaRose
Bowman – Brent – Dwyer
Gleason – Corvo
Pitkanen – Faulk
Harrison – Sanguinetti
Scratches: Welsh, McBain, Westgarth
Panthers Lines (Subject to change)
Fleischmann – Weiss – Mueller
Huberdeau – Matthias- Upshall
Kopecky – Santorelli- Skille
Kovalev – Smithson- Parros
Campbell – Kuba
Jovanovski – Ellerby
Stratchan – Caruso
Possible Scratches: Versteeg (Injury reasons)
Out: Bergenheim, Gudbranson, Kulikov, Weaver, Goc
Scouting the Enemy
The Panthers won five of six meetings against the Hurricanes last season, one of them coming on the last of game of the season to clinch a Southeast Division title. The Panthers are not paper tigers, as they are a pretty decent team at controlling the play at even strength, but they had a lot of things go right for them last season. They picked up 18 of their points from shootout losses and accumulated 52 of their 94 points in one-goal games, which is a tell-tale sign of luck playing a role in their success. That being said, this team had Carolina's number last year for whatever reason and getting a win over them would be a nice way to start a new season for the Canes.
The Panthers come into tonight's game with a somewhat depleted roster, as they will be missing four total players tonight, three of which being defenseman. Not having Gudbranson and Bergenheim in the lineup is obviously stings, but the Panthers are also going to be without their entire second defense pairing with Mike Weaver sustaining an injury in a scrimmage the other night and Dmitry Kulikov not coming to terms on a contract until the last minute. This probably means that two of Keaton Ellerby, Ed Jovanovski, Michael Caruso or Tyston Stratchan will have to take on a bigger workload than they are used to. This will obviously put a big strain on their defense and create a favorable matchup for Carolina's second and third lines. That is, unless Kevin Dineen plans to have Brian Campbell and Filip Kuba set individual records for ice-time tonight.
Up front, Florida is less banged up and still has a very strong first line with Tomas Fleischmann, Stephen Weiss and Kris Versteeg, the latter of whom will be out tonight. Carolina fans already know enough about them, though but one guy who they probably haven't seen a lot of is youngster Jonathan Huberdeau, who will be making his NHL debut tonight. Huberdeau was the Panthers 1st round pick in the 2011 Draft and has been a stud in the QMJHL. He may get a chance to play in the top-six in Bergenheim's usual spot, which should be interesting to see. Florida needs secondary scoring in the worst way and he could give them the jolt they need.
Five Things to Watch For
– The biggest thing I'm going to keep an eye on is how Kirk Muller uses Jordan Staal. He's playing with completely different linemates than he had in Pittsburgh and could be used in a different role if Muller doesn't trust Dalpe or Skinner against other team's top lines. Staal is obviously good enough to get the job done on his own, so he may continue to use him the same way he was in Pittsburgh. If Muller decides to shelter him then we should be in for a wild ride.
– Gleason/Corvo vs. the Weiss line is going to be a key matchup for this game. This will be the first time in awhile that Corvo has been placed in a shutdown role and going up against the third best line in the Southeast will be a good test for him and Gleason.
– Keep an eye on the pace of play to see how much the Canes have improved at preventing shots and chances against. This is one area Muller wanted the Canes to improve on this year and they have a good chance to get that off on the right foot with the shape Florida's defense is in. I know it's only the first game of the year and everyone is going to be rusty but if the Canes can not take advantage of a defense pairing featuring a 36-year-old Ed Jovanovski and Keaton Ellerby then I will have some major concerns about this season. Not really, but this is a matchup the Hurricanes should be able to exploit with their top-six.
– Bobby Sanguinetti is apparently going to be in the lineup for opening night and that is very exciting news for the future of Carolina's blue-line. He has played so well in Charlotte and in camp, so it's great to finally see him get a shot. He'll be on the third pairing, so it'll be in a limited role but it's been awhile since I was able to get a good luck at his play and it will be interesting to see how he performs.
– Dalpe and Boychuk are getting shots in the top-six right off the bat and everyone in Caniac Nation is going to keep an eye on their performance.These are two of Carolina's top forward prospects and were not long ago expected to be top-six players in the NHL. Those expectations have dwindled in recent years but both have been fantastic in Charlotte during the lockout, so their hard work has earned them another chance. Will they be able to take advantage of it? We'll have to wait and see about that, but the fact that they are being used in significant roles instead of being plugged on the fourth line has to make a lot of people happy.
Well folks, it's been a long wait but here's hoping that tonight's game and this season makes up for it. Sit back and enjoy the game. Oh, and Let's Go Canes!