LBC Game Day Preview: Florida Panthers at San Jose Sharks

Joel Auerbach

The Florida Panthers descend into the Shark Tank for the first game on their current west coast road trip.

For the second time this season, the Florida Panthers will square off against one of the top teams in the West in the San Jose Sharks. The first meeting ended in a 3-0 win for San Jose, but the Panthers team composition is significantly different than last time, so the Sharks certainly won't be facing the same group. That being said, the Cats might be slightly worse off than they were before, combining a mix of mediocre veterans and uber-green rookies to create one of the most AHL-like squads in the NHL. Still, the Panthers have been quite competitive with the roster they currently have, something you couldn't say earlier in the year.

The Sharks are sitting at 97 points and are poised for another postseason berth, whereas the Cats are basically out of the running entirely. This is a meaningless game, but not for the guys playing it. Several new call-ups for the Panthers will continue their auditions for next season, including the latest to join the group in Garrett Wilson. Wilson was called up from San Antonio earlier this week to replace the injured Jonathan Huberdeau, who did not travel with the team for this west coast road trip. Wilson is a big forward with some good hands and this will be his first NHL game, so best of luck to him and the rest of the team in what should be another very tough game. There are no easy games in The Shark Tank.

Players to Watch

  • Colby Robak - Robak's got a couple games under his belt this season and has looked pretty solid so far. His gap control has been excellent, he's shooting and getting involved in the rush, and he just looks much more comfortable out there than in previous stints with the big club. If Robak can finish this season strong, it's looking more and more like he's going to finally make the jump from the AHL that Panther fans have been waiting for.
  • Joe Pavelski - Little Joe is not playing little. With 34 goals and 66 points, Pavelski is having a great campaign and is going to be one of the clutch performers in the postseason for the Sharks. He's been San Jose's most consistent scorer outside of center Joe Thornton, and his 11 power-play goals lead the team (he also has one shorty). The Panthers will have to limit Pavelski's time with the puck and try to keep him out of the slot area, as he's very dangerous with Thornton constantly setting him up in the slot.
  • Jimmy Hayes - Hayes has eight points in March, over a span of nine games. Has Dale Tallon pried another great young player away from Chicago, or is this just a flash in the pan? Since being put on the power play by head coach Peter Horacek, Hayes has scored at a nice clip, using his huge frame to screen opposing goalies and create traffic and havoc around the net. It's worked so far and he's gaining confidence because of it. Let's hope he can keep up the production because the Panthers sorely need those special teams goals to win games.
  • Logan Couture - Despite some time missed this season due to injury, Couture is on pace to break his career high in points. The Sharks are insanely deep offensively and Couture is just another one of those pieces, alongside rookie Tomas Hertl, veteran Patrick Marleau, and converted defenseman Brent Burns. Watch for head coach Todd McClellan to engineer favorable matchups for Couture's line against the Cats' bottom two lines.
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