It may be a couple of days late, but the Florida Panthers are finally going to kick off their 2021 season Sunday night against the Chicago Blackhawks.
The new-look Panthers were supposed to take the ice Thursday, but a COVID-19 outbreak within the Dallas Stars forced the postponement of Florida’s first two games. Dallas had to reschedule its first four.
- Story updated following morning skate
There has been a lot of change within the Panthers since we last saw them in the Toronto bubble.
Not long after Florida was dispatched in four by the Islanders, GM Dale Tallon’s decade with the Panthers came to an end.
A few weeks later, Bill Zito was hired away from Columbus and he went about revamping the hockey operations department and the team’s roster.
On the ice, Zito added 12 players either through trade, free agency or waivers including Patric Hornqvist, Radko Gudas, Anthony Duclair, Alexander Wennberg and Carter Verhaeghe.
Florida did lose quite a few players including leading scorers like Evgenii Dadonov and Mike Hoffman as well as Mike Matheson, Mark Pysyk, Brian Boyle, Erik Haula and Lucas Wallmark.
Wallmark, who was not made a qualifying offer as a RFA, is expected to be in the lineup for Chicago on Sunday.
Due to all the changes, Florida captain Sasha Barkov said Friday that even though this his his eighth season with the Panthers, “everything feels new.”
“We have a new team, new guys, new management and for a lot of guys, this is a new chapter of their life and their career,” said Barkov, the second-overall pick of the 2013 NHL draft.
“Even for the guys who have been around here a long time, it feels the same. This is a fresh start with a new team. We have looked good at training camp, we had good pace and a good work ethic. Everyone is excited.”
Added Jonathan Huberdeau: “We have new management, a lot of new guys and it obviously feels different. I like the energy in the room. We have some new leaders and I like that we’re on the same page. We want to have a winning culture here and we’re pushing forward.”
Now, on to the GameDay thread!
Chicago Blackhawks at Florida Panthers
When: Sunday, 7 p.m.
Records: Chicago 0-2-0; Florida 0-0-0
All-time series: Chicago leads 25-11-3-2
Up next: Chicago at Florida, Tuesday, 7 p.m.
New special teams for Florida Panthers
With Mike Hoffman and Evgenii Dadonov out, the Panthers had to revamp their top power play unit.
Right now, it looks like three players — Sasha Barkov, Keith Yandle and Jonathan Huberdeau — survived the purge.
The Panthers haven’t been thrilled with their power play performance during training camp leading to Yandle getting a chance to work with the top group — including fellow defenseman Aaron Ekblad — on Saturday.
Yandle is back in the lineup is expected to run the top power play unit.
PP1: Sasha Barkov, Jonathan Huberdeau, Patric Hornqvist, Aaron Ekblad, Keith Yandle
PP2: Alexander Wennberg, Owen Tippett, Anthony Duclair, Carter Verhaeghe, Gustav Forsling
Projected Florida Panthers lines
The Panthers announced their opening night roster on Wednesday afternoon and their were only a few surprises.
Florida will carry 22 on the main roster right now (three players, including goalie Sergei Bobrovsky are on the non-roster/IR list) and five on the taxi squad.
While the taxi squad players can jump into the lineup at any time as long as the team announces it before 5 p.m. on a game day, we’re not expecting anyone to make the move on Sunday.
Later down the road, yeah. Brady Keeper looks like the main candidate to be the first to play.
Bobrovsky apparently could have played Sunday but the Panthers are giving him another day to get ready. He is expected to get the start in Game 2 against the Blackhawks on Tuesday.
Although it appeared Yandle would be scratched and his run of 866 consecutive games would come to an end, he WILL play Sunday per Quenneville.
Carter Verhaeghe — Sasha Barkov — Anthony Duclair
Jonathan Huberdeau — Alexander Wennberg — Patric Hornqvist
Frank Vatrano — Eetu Luostarinen — Owen Tippett
Ryan Lombard — Noel Acciari — Brett Connolly
MacKenzie Weegar — Aaron Ekblad
Gustav Forsling — Anton Stralman
Keith Yandle — Radko Gudas
Chris Driedger / Sam Montembeault
Healthy scratch: Riley Stillman, Vinnie Hinostroza.
Projected Chicago Blackhawks lines
Alex DeBrincat — Dylan Strome — Patrick Kane
Dominik Kubalik — Pius Suter — Brandon Pirri
Mattias Janmark — Lucas Wallmark — Andrew Shaw
Matthew Highmore — David Kampf — Ryan Carpenter
Duncan Keith — Connor Murphy
Calvin de Haan — Ian Mitchell
Nikita Zadorov — Adam Boqvist
Collin Delia / Malcolm Subban
Florida Panthers game notes
This will be only the third time the Panthers have opened a season against the Blackhawks — and the first time on home ice.
The Panthers’ first-ever game in 1993 came at Chicago Stadium with that historical game ending in a 4-4 tie.
The two teams also opened the 2009 season in Helsinki.
Florida has found some success of late against the Blackhawks, earning at least a point in its past five games. Last year, Florida won in Chicago then lost in a shootout in Sunrise.
The Panthers are winless in their past three (0-1-2) home games against Chicago.
Florida is 11-9-1-3 in season-opening games but has won four of its past five.
Per NHL Stats, the Panthers hold the NHL’s best points percentage when opening the season at home (.900).
Over its past 10 home openers, Florida has not lost in regulation (8-0-2). The Panthers are 9-3-0 in their past 12 home openers.
— Frank Vatrano has posted six points (5-1-6) over six career games against Chicago and recorded his first hat trick as a Panther on Jan. 21 in Quenneville’s return to United Center.
— With Yandle playing, his Iron Man streak runs to 867 games.
Chicago Blackhawks game notes
The Blackhawks continue their Sunshine State road trip after losing the first two games of their season in Tampa Bay.
Chicago is without Jonathan Toews and Kirby Dach (he was hurt at World Juniors) as both were put on long-term injury reserve.
The Blackhawks still have Patrick Kane, however, and he leads active Chicago players with 10 goals and 23 points against the Panthers.
Quenneville, obviously, knows the Blackhawks well as he won the Stanley Cup three times and 452 regular-season games in his 10-plus years as Chicago’s coach.
The Blackhawks fired Quenneville early in the 2018-19 season and Florida signed him to a six-year deal the day after that season ended.