The Florida Panthers will kick the rust off their skates as they take on Alex Ovechkin and his Washington Capitals tonight at 7:30. It’ll be their first game since the Olympic break – which didn’t fare so well for the two Cats chosen to represent their country – as rookie sensation Aleksander Barkov and the pesky penalty killing Tomas Kopecky were both injured in Sochi with likely season ending injuries.
There aren’t very many teams in the history of the NHL that have depended on a rookie to center their first line, but these Florida Panthers are different. Barkov’s absence has left a glaring hole between Brad Boyes and Sean Bergenheim. Luckily, the Florida Panthers have a big backup plan….fellow second line rookie, Nick Bjugstad.
Dale Tallon dipped his hands into the San Antonio Rampage’s AHL roster to find someone to fill Bjugstad’s former spot on the second line and chose Drew Shore to fill the slot between the sophomore slumping reigning rookie of the year, Jonathan Huberdeau and the often struggling right winger, Scottie Upshall.
No one has heard the rumors that if either Drew Shore or Nick Bjugstad are injured in the coming weeks that Dale Tallon will dip his hands into local high school teams, because that’d be a joke. But for an organization that prides itself on depth, it’s surprising how much they rely on youth over depth to score against the best players in the world.
Whether or not our new top 6 lineup is a recipe for success or disaster remains to be seen, but with the season quickly coming to an end just like the Panthers playoff dreams, I can only hope that these professional ice hockey players will play for the pride of wearing a Florida Panthers jersey rather than for the hopes and dreams of being traded away to a Stanley Cup contending team at the trade deadline and kissing Lord Stanley’s Cup in June.
Maybe if they can find a competitive edge as sharp as their skates the Panther’s will be able to end the season on a positive note, but it’s becoming more and more apparent that the positive note may not sound until after the final horn blows and the season comes to a close.
The Panthers are poised to be very active during free agency and are positioned to take a top five pick. The Panthers learned last year that being the worst team in the NHL won’t guarantee you the best player in the draft when they missed out on first overall pick in rookie scoring leader Nathan Mackinnon to the Colorado Avalanche. So perhaps they’ll get lucky this time and go number 1 overall. Their chances would certainly increase if they manage to fall apart and ride a losing streak of unimaginable lows.