Tuesday night in Sunrise, FL, the Florida Panthers (3-8-3) will host the Edmonton Oilers (3-10-2) while both teams are sinking deeper and deeper to the bottom of each of their respective conferences. Florida and Edmonton are certainly viewing this as a must-win. Florida has already lost at home to the Eastern Conference’s worst team, the Buffalo Sabres (3-1 L) and will be looking for redemption when they take on the Western Conference’s worst, tomorrow night. The Panthers have looked unmotivated in many of their games this season. They have defensive breakdowns within their own zone, collapse offensively in the opposition zones and get pushed around every time they have the puck. That is until last Saturday, when they stood toe-to-toe with their old Southeast Division rivals, the Washington Capitals in a 3-2 Shootout Loss.
Florida winger Kris Versteeg, for the first time in his career as a Panther, was a healthy scratch. Versteeg has been a culprit of lazy on-ice play and lacks hustle in all facets of the game. It was only a matter of time until there were consequences. With the scratch of Versteeg who has five points (2-3-5) in 13 games played came Krys Barch. Even though Barch’s hands are known more for dropping the gloves than scoring goals, he provided a much needed spark to a Panthers team who’s confidence has been shot lately. Barch brings grit to the lineup and to win a game the night after a 4-0 thrashing to the St. Louis Blues, the Panthers needed some fresh legs and a willingness to do the dirty work. The Oilers are young and like the Panthers can get knocked around. Barch has to be the one doing the knocking for Florida on Tuesday. The Panthers traded for Barch in the offseason to bring a physical presence to the team, he might as well be used. Barch was -1 with 2 PIMs (charging) and averaged 6:45 Time on Ice and played eight shifts.
Versteeg may have been sour being a healthy scratch, but it’s motivation for him to not end up in the press box again. While Versteeg could likely play against Edmonton, he has already found himself in Coach Kevin Dineen‘s doghouse early in the season. Versteeg worked hard to get back to the lineup after recovering from ACL surgery, but he needs to prove he can still be the 23-goal scorer he was in the 2011-12 season.
The young guns will be blazing on Tuesday. The Panthers bring 2012-13 Calder Trophy winner Jonathan Huberdeau, 2013 No. 2 overall pick, Aleksander Barkov as well as Erik Gudbranson, Dmitry Kulikov, Nick Bjugstad and Jacob Markstrom to the table, while the Oilers have 2011-12 Calder Trophy nominee Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, deadly sniper Jordan Eberle, 2012 No. 1 overall pick Nail Yakupov as well as blue-chip blueliner Justin Schultz. This game may be less of a competitive hockey game and more of a showcase for the NHL‘s future. While Eberle, Gudbranson and Kulikov have been in the league for a few years, they still are young and developing into key players.
These two teams have struggled mightily in the first month of the season and goaltending has been a big issue with both. The Panthers have lost Tim Thomas to injury twice already, while Markstrom’s lackluster efforts in net have not helped. The Oilers deal with the loss of Devan Dubnyk to injury, while his start has been less than impressive as well. Former Dallas Stars goaltender, Richard Bachman is just getting acclimated in Oil Country, but could prove to be a serviceable replacement for Dubnyk. Markstrom may be replaced on Tuesday by Scott Clemmensen, who had a good game in Washington in his first start this season. While Clemmensen had an awful go of things in the Shootout against the Capitals (where he allowed three goals on three attempts), his play during regulation (stopping 21 of 23 shots) was impressive for a goalie coming off an injury and two stints in the AHL. Clemmensen could be rewarded and get the start against Edmonton. It will be interesting what Dineen chooses to do and how Markstrom responds with possible competition in the Florida goal crease. This game is up in the air and either side can grab the win, it just depends on who’s willing to step up for his team and make the difference in this evenly matched contest.