Game Day Preview: Florida Panthers at Carolina Hurricanes

Florida: 26-29-7 (59PTS)
Carolina: 29-25-9 (67PTS)
Season Series: 2-3-0 (1OT)

The Panthers fire sale is in full swing. Since taking over the job in the summer, General Manager Dale Tallon has turned over 16 of 34 signed players. A 17th is in Europe and is likely to be bought out in the summer. This represents a 50% turnover and is probably only the start of changes. Panthers fans are split on whether this is good or bad, but one thing is for sure, this has been a long time coming. What is unsure is how painful the remaining 20 games are going to be. Will the young core and new players step up their games and suddenly start winning like the New York Islanders did, or will we be watching a race to the bottom of the standings?

Last meeting: On January 7, the Panthers lost 5-3 at home. The Panthers have already lost the season series against Carolina, as one of the games was an OT win for the Cats. The goalie in both Panther wins was backup Scott Clemmensen.

Last game: The Panthers lost 2-1 to the surging New Jersey Devils. The Devils are now one point behind the Panthers, who sit in 12th place in the Eastern Conference and 27th in the league. One more New Jersey win and Florida loss puts the Cats high enough in the draft order to move up to first if they win the draft lottery.

Notes: The Panthers continued their deadline trades, shipping out four more players yesterday: defensemen Dennis Wideman and Bryan Allen and forwards Chris Higgins and Radek Dvorak. Allen will join Cory Stillman in Carolina, Wideman joins the Washington Capitals, Higgins the Vancouver Canucks and Dvorak the Atlanta Thrashers. All but Wideman are unrestricted free agents in the summer. Coming back are forwards Niclas Bergfors and Sergei Samsonov and numerous minor league players and draft picks. Bergfors will wear Gregory Campbell's number 11 and Samsonov will wear Dvorak's 14 for the Panthers. Yesterday defenseman Joe Callahan forward Bill Thomas were sent to Rochester and then Callahan was called back up to replace Allen. Keaton Ellerby was called up to replace Wideman.

Injuries: Jack Skille (day to day), High ankle sprain, unknown (2/23/2011). Ryan Carter (day to day), upper-body injury (2/12/2011). Evgeni Dadonov (IR), broken finger, out at least a month (3/3/2011). Shawn Matthias (IR), broken ankle, out 6-8 weeks (1/31/2011). Rostislav Olesz, knee, out for the season (2/25/2011).

Starting goaltenders: The starting goaltenders are likely to be Cam Ward and Tomas Vokoun. Scott Clemmensen has been decent against the Hurricanes this year, so he may get the nod, but this is the sort of game where DeBoer is likelier to go with his starter.

Lines: Your guess is as good as mine here. Coach Pete DeBoer doesn't have a lot of time to figure out how his new forward corps will fit together. Luckily, the defensemen have been here all season so he has an idea of where to start. I'm thinking DeBoer is going to start with a version of the lines used the other night and slot the new guys in with center Marty Reasoner.

Booth - Weiss - Repik
Bergfors - Reasoner - Samsonov
McArdle - Santorelli - Bernier
Hordichuk - Timmins - Jessiman

The defensemen have all been here, but the variation hasn't happened yet. At least two of Bryan McCabe, Allen and Wideman have been in almost every game, with the Allen-Wideman pair playing most games. DeBoer will probably stick with two pairs that have played well through the season: the shutdown pairing of Jason Garrison and Mike Weaver and the offensive pairing of Dmitry Kulikov and Keaton Ellerby, with Joe Callahan and new acquisition Alexander Sulzer making up the third pairing. The top four on display here are likely to be next year's top four if they play well down the stretch.

Garrison-Weaver
Kulikov-Ellerby
Callahan-Sulzer

No one really knows how the Panthers are going to respond to the massive changes. They went into a slump a week ago, losing back to back 5-1 games to two of the worst teams in the league, but played well in the 2-1 loss to the Devils. It's been repeated all season that guys are playing for jobs and yesterday's deadline deals has brought that home to the Panthers, those that are left. We'll have a better idea how that message was received in a week or two, but for now the transition is exciting and we can only hope the games will be as well.

More from our Carolina cohorts at Canes Country

Panthers vs Hurricanes coverage at SBNation.com

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