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Game 7 Preview: Panthers @ Avalanche

The denizens of south Florida swing through Denver. One of these two teams will get their second win of the season.

Joel Auerbach

On Tuesday night, last year's Eastern Conference Door Mats Not Named Buffalo come to town looking for their second win of the young season.  You know who else would like their second win of the season?  The Avalanche.

The Panthers will be bringing an old foe with them in the guise of netminder Roberto Luongo.  He managed to blank the Eastern Conference Door Mat Named Buffalo in a thrilling 1-0 game on Friday night. His backup, Al Montoya was in net the following night in a 2-1 shootout loss to the Capitals.  Luongo and Co. should be well rested with 2 days between games and knowing they won't play again until Saturday in Arizona so we can't hope for a tired bunch of kitties...

FWIW, the last time these two clubs faced off (in Florida), the Avs won it 3-2. Since then the Panthers have changed head coaches (to old CBJ Gerard Gallant), drafted a defenseman #1 (ha-ha..., wait), and gotten Bobby Lou back in the crease.

Our own #1, Semyon Varlamov, will still be on the IR for this contest.  No idea if Reto Berra will be back in game shape or if we'll get to see Calvin Pickard get shelled again.  While the rook has looked passible, he hasn't gotten much in the goal support department from the woeful Avalanche who've managed to pot only 9 goals in 6 games.  Lingering wrist issues to Gabriel Landeskog, boat-anchor dragging by Matt Duchene, chemistry issues with Ryan O`Reilly, and a missing person report for Erik Johnson have kept some of the regulars off the score sheet most nights.  One match-up-related ray of sunshine is that the Panthers have only lit the lamp 5 times thus far.  Their 11 goals against looks pretty sparkling compared to Colorado's 20, though.

It's pointless to tell you who's leading Florida in points and goals since, you know, 5 goals, but some things to keep your eyes on Tuesday night include:

  1. They have no piping on their jerseys.  Yes, the trainwreck that is the Florida Panthers sweaters have no piping.  We're still rocking ours like it's 2007!!
  2. Tomas Fleischmann is gainfully employed in their bottom 6.
  3. Florida ranks 23rd on the PK and 25th on the PP.  Might we get a man-advantage goal? Will we give up pseudo shorties?
  4. Brian Campbell and Dmitri Kulikov are the minute-munching top pair.  Who do they match up against and who does rookie Aaron Ekblad and old friend of the show Willie Mitchell have to handle?
  5. What do the Colorado forward lines look like?  Are we done experimenting yet?

Anywho, puck drop is 7 pm MT and will be aired on Altitude.

BONUS: Three ?'s with Litter Box Cats' Donny Rivette:

1. The Avs have had lots of trouble scoring goals in the early season.  Florida has struggled in the GF category as well.  We like to blame our top players for not playing well.  Who or what's the culprit in Miami?

Certainly the "top players" have yet to make an impact, at least up front. Of Florida's 10 skaters with at least one point on the season only half are forwards; a scary stat until one considers the abject failure which was the Cats' defense a season ago. In essence, the blueline has improved immeasurably in a short span while the offense has remained stagnant. A good problem to have in general for a roster pockmarked with young studs such as Nick Bjugstad, Aleksander Barkov, Jonathan Huberdeau, and recently unleashed Brandon Pirri (thanks to Dave Bolland's injury). Get the D rolling, then tweak the O. Considering changes made over the summer - which include an almost entirely new coaching corps (defensive forward stud John Madden and goalie coach Robb Tallas are the only returnees on a now five-man staff) - strategies are going to take time to implement. It's pretty encouraging seeing the goals-against kept so low after five games, with only one blowout coming versus New Jersey (yeah, I know). Lot of lessons to absorb, but pieces are in place. They either have it together by game 25 or it's another Draft Lottery.

2.  Both clubs have managed a single win in the burgeoning season.  Who gets W number 2 and why?

Who gets win number 2? Though Al Montoya earned it in regulation and overtime in an eventual shootout loss in Washington Saturday (where the Capitals have gone 11-1 in the past 12 against Florida), he was brutalized in the SO with three goals on same number of attempts. Game over. Putting my money on Luongo, because Luongo. His numbers are better than solid when facing Colorado (19-15-5 2.62/.912 3SO) but a lot of that success came with Vancouver. That said: he's happy, he's healthy, he's enjoying the game again. Lots to be said for "state of mind".

3.  Who gets phantom scratched and then surreptitiously put back into the starting lineup against the Avs?

No phantom scratches on this trip (Panthers can't afford to play that strategy right now) but keep an eye on the aforementioned Pirri. Another victim of Chicago's remarkable stable of talent up front before being acquired by Tallon, Inc last season, Pirri notched 14 points (7 goals) in 21 games with the Panthers late in 2013-14, so yeah, the fanbase has been clamoring for his return; "#FreePirri" became A Thing in recent days on Twitter, so he's now under the microscope after one game in SoFla.