Colorado Avalanche at Florida Panthers game preview
SUNRISE, Fla. -- In the past two games, the Florida Panthers have been beaten, in essence, on third-period goals by two superstars -- Steven Stamkos of the Tampa Bay Lightning and Alex Ovechkin of the Washington Capitals.
Those are two of the top five players in the NHL, according to a recent list posted on an NHL website.
Perhaps fortunately for the Panthers, the Colorado Avalanche -- their next opponent on Saturday night at the BB&T Center -- do not have any players of that caliber. The closest the Avs have are forwards Nathan McKinnon and Matt Duchene, who are top-50 guys.
The Panthers (2-1-1), the defending Atlantic Division champs, are off to a decent start. After winning their first two games, the Panthers were 5.5 seconds away from going 3-0-0 before a Stamkos goal forced overtime and an eventual Florida shootout loss.
Then on Thursday against the Capitals, the Panthers had battled back from a two-goal deficit to tie the score 2-2. And that's when Ovechkin's deflection created the 90th game-winning goal of his career.
Colorado (3-1-0) is off to an even better start than Florida, including an impressive 4-0 win at the Lightning on Thursday.
Goalie Semyon Varlamov, who joins McKinnon, Duchene and forward Gabriel Landeskog as Colorado's four representatives on the NHL top-100 list, seems to already be in peak form.
"When we need a save, Varly is there," Colorado coach Jared Bednar said Thursday
When the Panthers need a save, they turn to goalie Roberto Luongo, who made the espn.com list along with young defenseman Aaron Ekblad, center Aleksander Barkov and injured winger Jonathan Huberdeau. Defenseman Keith Yandle could also merit attention on any such list.
The Panthers are a curious blend between old and young.
In Thursday night's loss to the Capitals, Florida's two goal-scorers were 44-year-old Jaromir Jagr and a man half his age, rookie defenseman Michael Matheson, 22. It was career goal No. 2 for Matheson while Jagr has 750, which ranks third in NHL history behind record-holder Wayne Gretzky and Gordie Howe.
Jagr is one of the keys to the Florida power play, which got off to a slow start this season -- 0-for-10 -- before finally converting on Thursday. Jagr said Panthers coach Gerard Gallant made adjustments.
"We put two defensemen on our (power play) unit," Jagr said. "They are a little more comfortable on the blue line, and we moved the puck pretty well."
The Panthers also made a roster move on Friday in anticipation of the Avalanche game, recalling forward Kyle Rau, 23, from the Springfield Thunderbirds of the American Hockey League.
Rau isn't big -- just 5-8 and 178 pounds -- but the Panthers like the Minnesota native's quickness and his feisty attitude. He was their third-round pick in 2011, and they are hoping he can now provide a spark.
It isn't as if the Panthers are playing poorly, though. They badly outplayed the Capitals for a long stretch on Thursday -- the last 10 minutes of the first period and the entire 20 minutes of the second all went to the Panthers, who piled up shot totals and scored two unanswered goals during that span.
For the game, Florida had more shot attempts 57-45 and also won the face-offs battle with Washington, 31-24.
But the Panthers have to do what all teams must do -- rely on a short memory, shaking off a loss and getting ready for the next challenge, which, in this case, is the red-hot Avalanche.