LBC Game Day Preview: Florida Panthers Host Buffalo Sabres
Now that the deadline madness is done, the Panthers will look to finish out the rest of the season with a full-press youth movement and a new franchise goalie in the crease.
Wow. What a trade deadline, eh? I don't think majority of the pundits and professionals out there expected the Panthers to be as active as they were, let alone trading for top-tier NHL talent. Many predicted a firesale, and despite trading away Marcel Goc, Mike Weaver, Shawn Matthias, Jacob Markstrom, Eric Selleck and Tim Thomas, the Panthers left most of the lineup untouched, aside from waiving Scott Clemmensen and Scott Gomez, and demoting Drew Shore to San Antonio. The Cats welcomed back All-Star goaltender and Sochi gold medal winner Roberto Luongo to South Florida, and with newly acquired center Brandon Pirri and recent callup Vincent Trocheck in the lineup, as well as one yet unnamed San Antonio defenseman to be recalled to replace Weaver... well, it's a different team on the ice, no doubt.
But will the result change? We've seen so many roster shuffles and massive turnover in the last few years that it leaves a fan (or reporter) very skeptical as to whether or not this team can compete every night. There is definitely a true youth movement afoot, but there aren't enough top-end, proven NHL players on this roster to make up for rookie mistakes. The veterans on this team have not lead by example enough, outside of maybe Brad Boyes, Sean Bergenheim, and Scottie Upshall. All the talent in the world can't stand up to a full, dedicated effort by a hard-working team, and when you get both of those things at the same time, you see the result. Look at Chicago, Los Angeles, San Jose.
I wouldn't expect any miracles to end the season. These last 20 games are going to be something we've seen in previous years: an extended tryout for young guys, a chance for redemption for under-performing veterans, and a chance to hopefully develop some long-term chemistry under a coaching staff that hasn't even been on the job for a full season. There's definitely a lot of talent in this crop of youngsters that were raised up under the Tallon regime, and hopefully it's time to start seeing dividends from it. But no matter how good they are, where they were drafted, the theme remains the same: hard work for 60 minutes is the only way to win.
Players to Watch
Roberto Luongo - Lou is still one of the best in the business and is extremely happy to be back in South Florida. That is, until he has to play in front of the Panthers atrocious, mistake-riddled defense. We'll see if Luongo can develop a rapport quickly with the guys in front of him, and if he doesn't, expect a rough first outing for the veteran goalie, even against the lowly Sabres.
Michal Neuvirth - Another goalie who will be settling in with his new club, Neuvirth was acquired from the Washington Capitals on deadline day. He's likely to get his first start for the Sabres against Florida, and is looking to supplant incumbent Jhonas Enroth as the main guy in the Buffalo crease. Neuvirth has seen flashes of greatness while playing in Washington but injuries and inconsistencies have derailed his game. He'll get every chance to redeem himself in Buffalo, but like Luongo in Florida, there isn't much of a team in front of him yet.
Vincent Trocheck - Much has been said about the young center from Pittsburgh this season, and there's no question he's deserved accolades for what he's done in his rookie AHL season up to this point. With 41 points in 54 games, Trocheck is leading the Rampage in scoring and his talent and work ethic translated very quickly from his jump out of the OHL. Is he ready for the NHL yet? We'll start to find out tonight. Best of luck to Vincent in his NHL debut.
Chris Stewart - Many though Stewart, a prolific power winger in St. Louis, would be on the move again after Sabres GM Tim Murray acquired him, but he instead remains with the Sabres and will look to contribute on the wing of center Cody Hodgson. Stewart plays a hard-nosed game and has a knack for scoring, but has always done so as a depth winger. We'll see if he can handle the top-line sniper responsibilities on a Buffalo squad that doesn't have much depth.