The Lightning make their regular season Times Palace debut tonight in (another) divisional contest, their third of the season so far, facing off against the Florida Panthers. I already touched on the fact that this is the 20th season of our rivalry (or lack there of) with the Panthers, but it's more immediately relevant to note that this is the fourth game between the two clubs in the past three weeks; the previous meetings so far were pre-season tilts in Tampa, Estero, and Sunrise. That could translate into a more fierce competition between the two teams...Or a lull. It depends on what type of emotion has been wrought from the earlier games between the two teams.
And it's not like every player who will suit up tonight played in those preseason games.
Speaking of suiting up for games, Richard Panik and Andrej Sustr return to the Tampa Bay lineup tonight. Sustr was substituted for Keith Aulie against Buffalo, and Panik was dropped from the lineup for now-injured Tom Pyatt. Likely we'll see Panik playing on the 2nd line wing with Alex Killorn and Valtteri Filppula, while Teddy Purcell takes up the wing vacated by Panik on the second line with Ondrej Palat and Tyler Johnson.
Ben Bishop is also slated to start in net for the Lightning, his third consecutive start. I won't post Ben's numbers here, mostly because of the small sample size and being afraid I'll jinx things, which seems to be chronic when Lightning goalies play well for any number of consecutive games. Ben has played well, let's just say that.
And it is early and it's stupid to get on anyone for lack of production after three games, but Steven Stamkos is without a goal and continues to have a woeful faceoff percentage. He's working on the faceoff thing though. The goals thing will come in time - I mean, how often do prolific scorers just stop scoring?
As for the Cats, goaltender Tim Thomas fell down, went boom against the Philadelphia Flyers. I'm not talking about being lit up and pulled - he was injured. Jacob Markstrom will start in net for Florida; his first start of the season. He has appeared in two games so far this season but both were in relief of Thomas. He stopped all 25 shots faced from the Flyers in his last outing.
The Panthers are also looking for their second win of the season; they sit in 7th place in the Flortheast Division at the moment (ahead of the winless Sabres). While they got the season off to a good start with a 4-2 road victory over Dallas, they were utterly pasted in their next outing - a 7-0 loss to the St. Louis Blues.
Defensemen Brian Campbell leads the Cats in scoring with 3 assists, while Marcel Goc has 2 goals. Rookie Alexander Barkov became the youngest player in the modern NHL to score a goal when he potted one against the Dallas Stars on opening night for the Kitties.
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