The Florida Panthers open an important six-game homestand tonight against the Boston Bruins. Today, I had the privilege to ask Sarah Connors, of the entertaining Stanley Cup of Chowder, a handful of queries.
Kevin (LBC): Goaltender Tukka Rask has been almost unfathomably good (seven goals allowed in five games and a .951 save percentage), are there any weaknesses to his game?
Sarah (SCOC): I'd say not really, nothing specific. A good chunk of his goals allowed so far this year have come as a direct result of the Bruins' weakest defensive pairing allowing really terrible odd man situations, where Rask will suddenly be staring down two guys who just deke him out. And even still, he's looked great for the most part. I'm happy to see him continue his excellence from last year and really earn that huge contract the Bruins gave him.
Kevin: I'm asking you this as a Tim Thomas expert: Will TT get any better after his groin tweak heals up?
Sarah: Ha ha, I sincerely hope so! His age may become a factor...it's probably pretty tough to take an entire year off from NHL game situations when you're 40, that may have not been his best idea ever. He bounced back pretty well from injury with the Bruins, but that was nearly four years ago. It's hard to say if his crazy reflexes and unorthodox style will still work for him after such a long break, but if they do, you guys are in for a fun time.
Kevin: Glancing over the stats reveal that the Bruins will win most of their games defensively, without a lot of help from the power play unit. Which line is going to start producing, so that Rask can win on a bad night?
Sarah: Don't even get me started on the failerplay. The line that should start producing is the line of Lucic-Krejci-Iginla. Iggy's had a pretty slow start, but Lucic has looked good so far and Krejci tends to heat up as the season goes on as well. It's hard to say about the other top line, as it was supposed to be Marchand-Bergeron-Eriksson, but now Marchand's been demoted to the third line, and I don't believe Reilly Smith can contribute at the rate the original line was supposed to.
Kevin: What do you think about Gregory Campbell?
Sarah: I think he's a serviceable fourth liner who has been elevated to legendary hero status in Boston which is sort of irritating to we realists in the fanbase. (The less intelligent Bruins fans like to yell about how our fourth line is "the best in hockey, dudeguy!" but, um, numbers prove otherwise.) He does good work on the penalty kill and he's a good guy in the room from what I've heard.
Kevin: Boston has been blessed with recent postseason success - with two finals appearances, the 2011 Stanley Cup, and six playoff berths in a row to their credit. Is the 2013-14 version of the Bruins built for another deep playoff run?
Sarah: I think so, yes. It's early yet to tell if those top two lines will gel and start producing at a higher rate, and I think that's the key, here - the Bruins lost two big offensive weapons in the offseason and they were already notorious for not scoring a whole lot. If Eriksson and Iginla can contribute in that way, I think the Bruins could definitely make it pretty deep this year.
Many thanks to Sarah for her insightful take on the B's. Read what I had to say to her questions this afternoon at 2 p.m. at Stanley Cup of Chowder, and don't forget to tune in right here for your game preview just after 3 p.m., and as always, your LBC GameThread goes live half an hour before face-off, at 7:30 tonight.