Sabres vs. Panthers preview
blog by Ben Tsujimoto • October 20, 2011 @ 8:06am
Through five games, we’d say the Sabres are meeting expectations. True glimpses of promise, like that pretty face-off goal by Vanek with two seconds left in the second period against Pittsburgh, reveal exactly of what this Buffalo team is capable. Despite some nervy moments, like the troubling loss to a beatable ‘Canes team, there’s nothing to suggest that the Sabres aren’t a Stanley Cup contender.
The Florida Panthers, tonight’s opponent in Fort Lauderdale (7:30 p.m., MSG), were impotent offensively in 2010, one of two NHL teams without a 50 point scorer (Edmonton was the other). First year head coach Kevin Dineen’s squad is shockingly tied for 15th in the league in goals this year, largely because he finally has a competent top line (seven of the team’s 13 goals) at his disposal. The injection of new blood—at least 11 new faces—should result in a more entertaining product (the Panthers were largely unwatchable last year). Here’s the quick preview:
Florida’s 2010-11 record: 30-40-12, 72 points. Dead last in the Eastern Conference.
Did not qualify for the postseason.
2011-12 record: 3-2
The Panthers’ top line: Tomas Fleischmann (always makes me think of warm rising yeast), Stephen Weiss and Kris Versteeg form a rather unheralded but gifted trio. Florida took a risk with Fleischmann—who exploded out of the gate with Colorado before being diagnosed with pulmonary embolism—by signing him to a four year, $18 million deal. Weiss, in his 10th year with the club, never developed into the point-per-game scorer many thought he’d become, but he’s still a valuable top line center and assistant captain. Versteeg, donning his fourth different uniform in three seasons, is a solid two-way player who’s still only 25.
Campbell faces his old ‘mates: “Soupy” is on a (crusty French) roll through five games, logging nearly 28 minutes of ice-time per contest and tallying a team-high seven assists. His six power play points are a prime reason why Florida’s dead-last PP unit in 2010 has vaulted to the top of the league early in 2011. As ESPN’s preview notes, seven of the league’s top 10 power play units were playoff teams. In sum, a (+46) over the past two seasons, Campbell’s $7.14 million annual salary is (somewhat) defensible.
New goalie in Florida: 2002 Vezina and Hart winner Jose Theodore, now in the twilight of his career, is keeping the proverbial seat warm for goaltender-of-the-future Jacob Markstrom, who hasn’t quite grasped the reins yet. Perhaps the Panthers’ relatively hot start has Dineen relying on the veteran Theodore—is Florida a contender or a pretender? I’m thinking the latter, but you never know with GM Dale Tallon.
Prediction: 3-2 Buffalo in overtime (Goals: Leino, Pominville, Ehrhoff; Fleischmann, Upshall.)