Plenty of storylines in this one, right? Panthers head coach Peter Horachek will face off against former co-worker Barry Trotz for the first time. Scottie Upshall will be returning to the lineup after a brief injury recovery period to face his former team. Defenseman Dylan Olsen will miss his first game for the Panthers since being injected into the lineup on November 25. But perhaps the biggest story is the return of captain Ed Jovanovski to the lineup after fully recovering from major hip surgery. Jovo hasn't played an NHL game since March 16 against the New York Islanders, playing barely over ten minutes before tapping out.
Jovanovski is hardly the player he once was, and there's no guarantees that his surgically rebuilt hip will withstand the rigors of what remains in this NHL season for Florida. However, he should be able to step in for Olsen comfortably and provide some bottom pairing minutes as he gets himself back into game shape and speed. The Panthers can use his leadership and hockey smarts on the blueline, even if he's not at 100%. Hopefully the worst is behind Jovo, and his hip is truly healed and ready to deal with a tenacious Nashville forecheck. If not, we'll learn pretty quickly that this could be the last tour of duty for the beleaguered Panthers captain.
Another item to note that I didn't mention yet: struggling sophomore Jonathan Huberdeau has been demoted to third line duties in an attempt to light a fire under him. Huberdeau's looked very soft when carrying the puck and slow without it, prompting Horachek to make the "demotion" and get Huberdeau thinking. We'll see if he responds with a more complete effort in tonight's game, but one has to wonder how much the offseason surgery he endured affected his ability to compete at an NHL level night in and night out.
Need a place to vent, to share secrets, or to comment on Barry Trotz's natural good looks? The LBC GameThread is the place to be, and if you want to gloat afterwards (hopefully), check out the excellent coverage at On the Forecheck for some Nashville love. Gametime at 7PM, be there.
Players to Watch
Jonathan Huberdeau - For all the reasons mentioned above. This is a big adversity for Huberdeau, something he's not used to in his hockey career. It will be interesting to see how he deals with it, and if he can play his way back up the depth chart.
Mike Fisher - With eight points in his last three games, Fisher's been tearing it up for an offensively-challenged Predators team, something they desperately need as they're not much better on the offensive side of the puck than the Panthers. The Cats will have to cool off Fisher to keep the puck out of the back of their own net.
Marcel Goc - A former Predator, Goc scored in his last game against the Preds and always seems to show up when facing his former club. Goc has been pretty quiet on the scoresheet as of late, as of several of the other Panthers depth players, but expect him to make a little noise in this one.
Dmitry Kulikov - After regressing a bit in his last few games, Kulikov needs to remember the simple play that got him out of the doghouse. He'll likely be paired with Mike Weaver as he always is, but with the lack of Olsen and Erik Gudbranson on the blue line, he'll need to step up his offensive game while not turning the puck over or pinching too much along the boards.