And we're back in action. The Panthers will resume their homestand after the holiday break, welcoming the Detroit Red Wings into the BB&T Center. The Panthers have taken four points from the Wings so far through two contests, which has been a surprise considering the Panthers all-time record against the usually-strong Detroit club. The Wings will be happy to welcome back Henrik Zetterberg and Justin Abdelkader from injury, as the Wings are already missing Johan Franzen, Stephen Weiss, and defenseman Jonathan Ericsson. Scott Clemmensen will start for the Panthers, and the Wings will likely give Jimmy Howard the nod.
The Panthers will be without the services of Scottie Upshall and Erik Gudbranson, as well as Tim Thomas. Gudbranson is still out from orbital bone surgery, Upshall is presumed to miss a few weeks with an undisclosed upper body injury, and Thomas is now off IR but will likely man the blue paint on the second of the back-to-back this weekend against the Habs. Florida's starting to see some of the long-standing injury problems that have always seemed to plague this club creeping in this season, but so far they've been able to fill in the gaps in the lineup with something more than AHL callups.
That said, there will be two of said callups this game: Drew Shore makes his return to the big club, and Alex Petrovic will be filling in on the blue line again. Shore hasn't seen NHL action since October 8, and Petrovic played his first regular season game against the Lightning, who smacked the Panthers 6-1. The Panthers are truly starting a youth movement this season and here's to hoping these two start to fit in and produce now that they've had some real AHL seasoning time. None should hold the bar too high for either of these players yet though, especially Petrovic, as defenseman tend to take quite awhile to develop into NHL quality blueliners.
Join us for the LBC GameThread and take note that the game will be televised at 7PM EST on the NHL network (!!)
Players to Watch:
- Justin Abdelkader - He's starting to become the Red Wings replacement for Tomas Holmstrom in some ways; that dirty net presence that you love to hate. He's coming back from a concussion, so he may be a bit tentative, but there's no question where Abdelkader makes his money. If the Panthers want to keep Clemmensen's crease clear, someone's going to need to rough up Abdelkader and make his life around the crease painfully difficult.
- Jonathan Huberdeau - Huberdeau's really been struggling this season, and although some would call it the dreaded sophomore slump, I'd say it's got much more to do with hip surgery and not enough physical preparedness to start this season. He's being removed from the puck far too easily most of the time and doesn't seem to have a big jump to his skating at all times. Part of it may be effort, and part of it might be conditioning, but whatever the case, Huberdeau needs to pick up his play and be one of the offensive leaders of the Panthers. He certainly has the skill to do it.
- Aleksander Barkov - With six points through eleven games in the month of December, Barkov's been producing. The Panthers are starting to see why he was worth the selection as his smart two-way play has been translating into scoring chances the other way. He's only -4 on the year on a team that started so poorly it cost their head coach his job, so that's saying something of his play. Barkov's continuing to trend upwards and deserves more minutes if he keeps up the production.
- Niklas Kronwall - He's getting older, but eating up a ton of minutes for the Wings with all the injuries on the blueline. He's been the physical presence that we've always known but he's also posted six points in his last twelve games. The Panthers will have to stay diligent on the forecheck and wear down the Wings blueline, and Kronwall is a prime target.