Buffalo - October 17, 2014 - Who: Florida Panthers
Where: First Niagra Center, Buffalo, NY
Know thine enemy: On paper, the Panthers looked much improved heading into the 2014-15 campaign, but the opposite has proven true. For all the additions to the roster, the team is as inept as it gets on offense, having mustered just three goals through the first three games (all losses).
Even worse, star goalie Roberto Luongo, who was supposed to stabilize the goaltending situation for the first time in years, has been awful. Through three games, he’s 0-2-1 with a 3.78 GAA and an ugly .870 save percentage. He is coming off a strong performance against the Ottawa Senators on Monday, where the team dropped a 1-0 decision. He’s still capable of stealing the show when he’s on, but he’s yet to really be so early this season.
The real story of note is the play of top pick Aaron Ekblad. The first overall pick in this past June’s draft, Ekblad has seen his ice time increase over the last few games, topping out at 23:34 against Ottawa on Monday. The offensive opportunities aren’t there quite yet, but he’s looked solid in his own end and doesn’t look out of place.
On offense, things are getting a shake-up. Jimmy Hayes will be getting time with the team’s top line after he had four shots against the Senators; only Derek MacKenzie and Brian Campbell have multiple points this year.
About the Sabres: For the Sabres, changes are taking place despite picking up the team’s first win of the year Tuesday night in Carolina. The team sent defensemen Mark Pysyk and Jake McCabe down to Rochester of the American Hockey League. Patrick Kaleta also practiced Thursday, but might be a ways away while recovering from a head injury.
The Sabres are hoping to continue seeing a strong effort from guys like Marcus Foligno, who potted two in the win on Tuesday, and Drew Stafford (team-best three assists). For a team like the Sabres that is low on the talent spectrum, playing hard from whistle to whistle is key and it’s the only way they’re going to stay in games.
Another way to stay in games is to limit the shots heading towards the net. The Sabres are again awful at that this year, allowing a whopping 39 per game. It’s little wonder they’ve struggled to get in the win column this year; even with Ryan Miller in net, allowing that many shots resulted in a loss more often than not. That needs to be addressed if things are going to turn around.
The part where I predict things: The battle of inept offenses could be a race to two goals. The Panthers have been as bad as the Sabres were last year despite all of the additions to the roster and the Sabres can really only seem to get something going offensively in fits and bursts.
If Luongo is the Luongo we all know, the Sabres could be in trouble, especially given their penchant for producing so few shots (just 20.8/game). Allowing a ton of shots to a team like this might not be as deadly as it is against an Anaheim or Chicago, but it’s also not recommended.
Score: 2-1 Panthers
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