The Florida Panthers’ rebuilt defense corps shined in the first two games of the season and the group gets its toughest test yet against the host Tampa Bay Lightning on Tuesday. Florida general manager Tom Rowe brought in three veterans to join a trio of solid young blue liners in the top six and the Panthers allowed two goals total in a pair of victories.
Keith Yandle, Mark Pysyk and Jason Demers joined rookie Mike Matheson, along with holdovers Aaron Ekblad and Alex Petrovic, in front of goalie Roberto Luongo to beat New Jersey and Detroit – yielding 46 shots on goal combined. The Panthers must to deal with a deep Tampa Bay offense, which posted nine goals from seven different players in two wins to start the campaign. The Lightning fell behind by a pair of goals in victories over Detroit and New Jersey, getting at least two tallies from each of their four forward lines. “That’s what helps teams win in the playoffs,” Lightning captain Steven Stamkos told reporters. “When you look down your lineup and see guys capable of producing on all four lines, and we can roll them, that’s nice to know.”
TV: 7:30 p.m. ET, FSN Florida, FSN Sun (Tampa Bay)
ABOUT THE PANTHERS (2-0-0): Florida was forced to make changes up front because of long-term injuries to Jonathan Huberdeau (Achilles) and Nick Bjugstad (hand), with Jonathan Marchessault making the biggest impact. Marchessault, who played 47 games for the Lightning the last two seasons before signing as a free agent, posted a team-high four points playing beside Jaromir Jagr and Aleksander Barkov on the new top line. The trio combined for four goals, three assists and a plus-10 rating while recording 25 of the Panthers’ 74 shots in the first two contests.
ABOUT THE LIGHTNING (2-0-0): Tampa Bay enjoys the luxury of two balanced, healthy top lines to start the season as the units of Ondrej Palat-Stamkos-Jonathan Drouin and Alex Killorn-Tyler Johnson-Nikita Kucherov have been productive. Drouin and Killorn lead the team with three points apiece while Valtteri Filppula, who centers rookie Brayden Point and Vladislav Namestnikov on the third line, has two goals along with Killorn. Defenseman Victor Hedman is averaging a team-high 25:19 with two assists, three shots on goal and a plus-1 rating in the opening two games.
1. Tampa Bay G Ben Bishop, who was rested Saturday, is expected back in net and owns a 7-2-1 record and .912 save percentage against the Panthers.
2. The Panthers won four of the five meetings last season, including two of three in Tampa Bay - one in a shootout.
3. Florida G James Reimer, who was signed to a five-year contract to back up Luongo in the offseason, could get his first start Tuesday.
PREDICTION: Lightning 4, Panthers 2