We got the chance to check in with Kevin from Litterbox Cats for the scoop about how the Florida Panthers (1-3-0) are doing early in this season and he was kind enough to drop some knowledge for us. And you can also click here to see the questions they wanted to know about the Penguins prior to the game tonight.
#1 – With a new owner, some young talent (and a new, yet old goalie in Tim Thomas) what is the mood like among Panthers fans? What’s the expectations of this season as we go into the new divisions?At first, Florida faithful considered the PTO for Thomas a mere insurance policy. After the first game (a 4-2 win over the Stars), many predicted the second coming of Eddie the Eagle. After a 7-0 shutout against the Blues and two first period goals given up against the Flyers, the second of which left Thomas injured, Florida fans were dreading another season of the same old thing. Still, despite an 0-for-16 power play performance and one goal scored over their last two games, things seem to be looking up for the Panthers. The Cats peppered Flyers goaltender Steve Mason with 34 shots on Tuesday, and most of them were not of the wrister from the blue line variety. They're also killing an NHL seventh-best 91.7% of opposing power plays (11-of-12).(ed. note- this was before last night's game). Additionally, the Panthers are much healthier this season, and boast a stable of fresh young legs that weren't here last season. With Calder Trophy winner Jonathan Huberdeau (19), Calder Trophy hopeful Aleksander Barkov (18) and Drew Shore (23) at the NHL level, and Quinton Howden (21), Nick Bjugstad (21), and Alex Petrovic (21), among others all waiting in the wings.
#2 – Through the first 3 games the Panthers only have five goals, and now that long-time Florida mainstay Stephen Weiss departed, who are the team’s top centers and who will be looked at to generate more offensive production?
Honestly, the Panthers will take offense wherever they can get it. The Panthers are currently rolling out Marcel Goc, Aleksander Barkov, Jon Matsumoto, and Scott Gomez. Goc is probably the most underrated player in the NHL. He's a great two-way player, an excellent faceoff man, and consistently near the top of the NHL in Corsi and Fenwick ratings. Barkov could make his way onto some Calder Trophy ballots by the end of the season, and I honestly think that erstwhile Alaskan Gomez may have a lot more in the tank than most give him credit for.
#3 – For a Pittsburgh fan that might not know much about Florida’s young core, who are the key young players that the team are going to look to build around in the next 2-3 years? Are any in the NHL now?
You already know Huberdeau, and I just spoke about Barkov. You may or may not have heard of Jacob Markstrom, or as we call him, "The Alien." He's the 6'6" behemoth that you probably see in goal tonight, and he's the real deal. The guys you may not have heard of are winger Drew Shore (on the fourth line, wears number 15), centers Quinton Howden and Nick Bjugstad, and defenseman Alex Petrovic, who we also expect big things from.
#4 – Name a player that might breakthrough for this game and make an impact for Florida. (Bonus points if it’s an off-the-radar type pick)
I couldn't possibly provide you with a "can't miss" guy against what may be the best offensive team in the Eastern Conference, but I'll say that if Campbell notches two assists, Florida may steal the victory. If Markstrom proves to have the chops to stand up to the offensive onslaught presented by Malkin, Crosby and company, Florida may be able to sneak one out. With MAF playing the way he has been, however, I think the Cats would be lucky to score twice, and I think they'll need three to win this one.Thanks to Kevin and be sure to check them out at Litterbox Cats!