On a couple of occasions this week, new Florida Panthers coach Paul Maurice has compared the start of his team’s season against the Islanders to Christmas morning.
Well, it’s time to open up some gifts.
The Panthers’ 2022-23 season is about to commence.
Florida will open things up on the road this year, playing the host New York Islanders at UBS Arena tonight at 7:30 p.m.
It will be the first true opening night for the Islanders in their new luxurious arena at the Belmont Park site after they spent the first month of last season on the road before finally opening up the building.
With expectations built up for a team which missed the playoffs last season and is celebrating the franchise’s 50th anniversary, it should be a charged up bunch on Long Island.
“Training camp is truly over and you could feel the edge building in this past week because everyone needs a game right now,” Maurice said. “There are games on TV and everyone wants to get it going.”
The Panthers have more than their share of expectations themselves after a season in which they set a franchise record for points (122) and wins (58) as they won the first Presidents’ Trophy in franchise history and were the highest-scoring NHL team since the 1990s.
A second-round sweep at the hands of the hated Lightning, however, put a big old wet blanket on what had been an incredibly fun and successful season in Sunrise.
Florida was good but its style of game was smothered in the playoffs by a Lightning team which took away space and jammed things up.
Maurice wants the Panthers to continue their elite style of flying through the zone with playmakers throughout but knows they have to tighten up when needed.
“Things that sometimes come easy over the course of an 82-game season just completely disappear,” Maurice said. “There is no easy ice; the game gets played more on the walls and gets heavier in the corners. It becomes more of a battle game.”
Not living up to the expectations this team set for itself during the 2021-22 season while also not adjusting to what was happening to them led to plenty of offseason changes — the first big one was the hiring of Maurice over keeping interim coach Andrew Brunette.
“A lot of things have changed. We lost a lot of players and there are a lot of new faces here,” Carter Verhaeghe said. “We have a new coach, a new staff and we want to change the way we play because we weren’t successful last year.
“It’s going to take some time to build and get familiar with one another in new areas of the ice. But our players are so good here, it should be a short learning curve.
”We didn’t play a preseason game with the whole lineup but we’re still going to be pretty similar to last year. We just need to learn some new things.”
The Panthers do have a number of new faces in big places this season what with Matthew Tkachuk in for Jonathan Huberdeau on the second line with Rudolfs Balcers, Colin White and Nick Cousins getting big roles on the forward lines.
Florida also has two new defensemen what with MacKenzie Weegar off to Calgary with Huberdeau as Marc Staal and Josh Mahura jumping into the top-6.
”We had a great camp, the team worked really hard,” captain Sasha Barkov said. “We all feel pretty good about things, had a lot of team dinners and team building stuff to kind to get to know each other better. We’re really excited about this new chapter.”
— The Panthers will open with Sergei Bobrovsky in net tonight with Maurice not stating what his goalie plan would be for this three-game road trip to open the season.
Based on Saturday’s game in Buffalo being a 1 p.m. start, it would not be surprising — at all — to see Spencer Knight get the call against the Sabres with Bobrovsky back Monday night in Boston.
PANTHERS ON DECK
FLORIDA PANTHERS AT NEW YORK ISLANDERS
- When: Thursday, 7:30 p.m.
- Where: UBS Arena; Elmont, N.Y.
- TV/Streaming: Bally Sports Florida, ESPN+
- Radio: WQAM 560-AM/SiriusXM
- DraftKings odds — Florida favored: Money Line (-135); Puck line (-1.5, +190); Over/Under 6 (-110/-110)
- Last season: Florida won 3-0
- All-time regular season series: Panthers lead 54-32-11, 8 ties
PROJECTED FLORIDA PANTHERS LINEUP
23 Carter Verhaeghe // 16 Sasha Barkov // 13 Sam Reinhart
19 Matthew Tkachuk // 9 Sam Bennett // 38 Rudolfs Balcers
27 Eetu Luostarinen // 15 Anton Lundell // 6 Colin White
94 Ryan Lomberg // 21 Nick Cousins // 70 Patric Hornqvist
42 Gus Forsling // 5 Aaron Ekblad
18 Marc Staal // 62 Brandon Montour
28 Josh Mahura // 7 Radko Gudas
72 Sergei Bobrovsky
30 Spencer Knight
Injured: Anthony Duclair (LTIR), Matt Kiersted (LBI), Zac Dalpe (UBI), Justin Sourdif (UBI)
PROJECTED NEW YORK ISLANDERS LINEUP
11 Zach Parise // 13 Mathew Barzal // 21 Kyle Palmieri
18 Anthony Beauvillier // 29 Brock Nelson // 27 Anders Lee
20 Kieffer Bellows // 44 J-G Pageau // 12 Josh Bailey
17 Matt Martin // 53 Casey Cizikas // 41 Nikita Soshnikov
3 Adam Pelech // 6 Ryan Pulock
28 Alexander Romanov // 8 Noah Dobson
2 Robin Salo // 24 Scott Mayfield
30 Ilya Sorokin
40 Semyon Varlomov