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Tampa Bay Lightning at Florida Panthers: This time it actually means something!

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Has Carter Verhaeghe become the new Jonathan Marchessault for the Lightning?

Florida Panthers v Tampa Bay Lightning

Tampa Bay Lightning at Florida Panthers: GAME 12

Time: 7:00 pm Eastern Time

Location: BB&T Center

Broadcast/Streaming: Fox SUN

Opponent SBNation Site: Litter Box Cats

Preview:

After sweeping the Nashville Predators in their two-game series, the Tampa Bay Lightning are returning to Florida, although not to Amalie Arena yet. Their next opponent is the Florida Panthers, who are having one of their best starts in recent seasons. The two teams will meet three times over the next five days: the first two games will be hosted at the Panthers home arena and the last game will be played in Tampa, City of Champions.

The Panthers have slowed down a little bit in their recent games, however they remain in the top group in the Central Division and only trail the Lightning in both points and point percentage (this could be the most important stat if teams don’t finish the regular season with the same amount of games played because of....waves hand in general direction of the world). In the offseason, the Panthers did a great job of acquiring some not very obvious players who have blossomed in new roles with Florida. One of them is our old friend and the Stanley Cup Champion – Carter Verhaeghe.

After playing less than ten minutes per game in his previous season with the Lightning, Verhaeghe has earned a spot on the Panthers first line and has already scored six goals and three assists in ten games since the start of the season. That almost reaches the total amount of points from his previous season in almost forty fewer games. What is more impressive, all of his points were recorded at even strength, despite the fact that Verhaeghe is a part of the Panthers second power play unit. Having such players as Aleksander Barkov and Anthony Duclair is also helping – the line has been brilliant both offensively and defensively so far.

The argument could be made that Verhaeghe has become Jonathan Marchessault 2.0, a talented winger squeezed out of Tampa due to money who went on to find success in Sunrise on a reasonable contract. Now, if the Panthers trade him to Seattle in order to ensure the Kracken don’t take Gustav Forsling, then we definately have the second coming of Marchessault.

Had he stayed Verhaeghe could have created a competition with Alex Killorn in the fight for a spot on the left side of the second line, although at the time decision was made, the Lightning were desperately trying to move Tyler Johnson and simply didn’t have enough cap space to re-sign Verhaeghe. Had Nikita Kucherov’s hip flared up to the point where he needed season-ending surgery earlier in the offseason, Verhaeghe could still be a member of the organization.

In Mitchell Stephens absence the Bolts have been rotating their line combination – going from 11/7 to 12/6 with Alex Volkov and Cal Foote being interchangeable parts of the roster. By the time this article is written it’s not clear which rotation will be used for tonight’s game.

With Monday’s victory in Nashville, the Lightning extended their winning streak to six games, which is the longest winning streak in the NHL during this season so far. The Lightning have a very positive record of playing against the Panthers in recent seasons, winning ten out of the last twelve meetings, however this new Florida Panthers team wouldn’t be so easy to beat.

Tampa Bay Lightning Lines

Forwards

Ondrej Palat - Brayden Point - Steven Stamkos

Alex Killorn - Anthony Cirelli - Tyler Johnson

Blake Coleman - Yanni Gourde - Barclay Goodrow

Pat Maroon - Mathieu Joseph - Alex Volkov

Defense

Victor Hedman - Jan Rutta

Ryan McDonagh - Erik Cernak

Mikhail Sergachev - Luke Schenn

Goalies

Andrei Vasilevskiy

Curtis McElhinney

Florida Panthers Lines

Forwards

Carter Verhaeghe - Aleksander Barkov - Anthony Duclair

Jonathan Huberdeau - Eetu Luostarinen - Patric Hornqvist

Frank Vatrano - Alex Wennberg - Owen Tippett

Ryan Lomberg - Juho Lammikko - Noel Acciari

Defense

MacKenzie Weegar - Aaron Ekblad

Markus Nutivaara - Anton Stralman

Keith Yandle - Radko Gudas

Goalies

Sergei Bobrovsky

Chris Driedger