Game Preview: Avalanche – Panthers

Who: Florida Panthers (4-12-4)

When: Tonight, 9:00PM EST/7:00PM MDT

Your Starting Goalies: COL – Semyon Varlamov (9-4-0), FLA – Tim Thomas (3-6-0)

The Dangermen: On a bad team, it’s no surprise there are limited scoring options and one of them just got traded. A few days ago, the team traded Kris Versteeg back to the Chicago Blackhawks. Oh yeah, and they recently fired their head coach and the new guy isn’t doing too well either. The overall situation in Florida is not good and that’s without making any “no one shows up” jokes.

Oct 27, 2013; Sunrise, FL, USA; Florida Panthers center Jonathan Huberdeau (11) skates in the second period of a game against the Tampa Bay Lightning at BB

Leading the team at the moment comes down to three steady presences and one (maybe two) hot hands. Tomas Fleischmann leads the team in points with a dozen so far and seems to be the resident playmaker, leading the team with 9 assists. He and Jonathan Huberdeau are about the only consistencies on the forward lines.

Jesse Winchester has a four-game point-streak going on right now and Nick Bjugstad has four points in his last five games, but other than that, it’s slim pickings right now for the Panthers. Second overall pick Aleksander Barkov is also there. He’s a rookie, but he’s as talented as they come. Still, they are 26th in goals-per-game for a reason.

The Defenders: It doesn’t get much better on the back end, though Brian Campbell is one of the few offensive consistencies on this team as he has normally been. Things don’t get any easier with Ed Jovanovski on injured-reserve, either. Dmitry Kulikov, Erik Gudbranson, Tom Gilbert and Mike Mottau round out the group that is surrendering the third most goals-against in the league right now.

The real disappointment is Gudbranson, a top ten pick who has struggled with the Panthers so far. Perhaps he was rushed, but the Panthers faithful should know that young defensemen typically take time to develop and come into their own. Still, Gudbranson’s development has been a cause for concern.

The bottom line for this group is that they struggle to keep pucks out of the net. Blame who you want, but it’s a team stat.

Puck Stoppers Inc.:  It doesn’t get much better back here, either. Tim Thomas is the early favorite to get the start tonight and he hasn’t been the same Timmy Thomas that led the Boston Bruins to a Stanley Cup. He’s been disappointing to say the least when he hasn’t been dealing with nagging injuries. Whatever you want to call it, he’s got a 3.08 GAA and .901 save percentage.

Behind him is the guy many felt was the future of the Panthers in the crease — Jacob Markstrom. He’s been reduced to splitting time with Thomas and he’s been markedly worse than his much older peer. He’s 1-5-3 with a 3.36 GAA and .877 save percentage. He’s been substantially worse than Thomas when given the nod, though it’s hard for either guy behind this group of skaters.

You feel a little bad for Markstrom. Thomas? Maybe if he weren’t so crazy and/or annoying.

Nov 9, 2013; Ottawa, Ontario, CAN; Florida Panthers goalie Tim Thomas (34) makes a save on a shot from Ottawa Senators center Zack Smith (15) in the third period at the Canadian Tire Centre. The Senators defeated the Panthers 3-2. Mandatory Credit: Marc DesRosiers-USA TODAY Sports

How the Avs match up: After the beat down the Blues handed them on Thursday, this is just what the doctor ordered for the Avalanche — a home game against a very bad team. Come out with the requisite fire a team should have after getting embarrassed in a big game and this should be a runaway for the Avalanche.

This is the first time the Avalanche are in the midst of a losing streak this year, so they need to respond properly. The Avalanche of old would come out and give this one away; this group needs to come out flying and dominate.

Key Matchup: Avs vs Apathy

Cower in fear if: Effort is flat and uninspired.

Tim Thomas is Boston Bruins Tim Thomas.

Someone from Florida actually scores.

Laugh maniacally if: Effort is high and so is the pressure.

The goaltending is much closer to what it’s been all year and not the ugly mess it was against St.Louis.

Matt Duchene takes out his frustrations on the poor, poor Panthers.

Silly predictions: Duchene scores twice; Gabe Landeskog levels at least one Panther; Andre Benoit finally scores a power play goal (this will come true eventually, right?); Varly gives up a late one to lose the shutout he so richly deserves.

Final:  5-1 Avalanche

Ryan is the editor of Mile High Sticking as well as co-owner of The Farm Club. Follow him on Twitter to talk Avs, Sabres, hockey in general, or to let him know what a yutz he is.

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Topics: 2013-14 Season, Aleksander Barkov, Colorado Avalanche, Florida Panthers, Gabriel Landeskog, Jonathan Huberdeau, Matt Duchene, NHL, Semyon Varlamov, Tim Thomas

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