Photo Credit: Robert Mayer (USA Today)
After a 176-day wait in between meaningful Red Wings games, Detroit came out hot only to fizzle out in the final two periods against the Lightning on Thursday and start the 2016-17 season 0-1-0.
The Red Wings remain in the State of Florida tonight and will play just three hours down the road in Sunrise, Florida against the Panthers. Florida is banged up to start the year, but come in 1-0-0 after beating the New Jersey Devils in overtime in their season opener.
As I wrote prior to game one, the fans had an issue with how Ken Holland managed the team this offseason and they were particularly upset with the fourth line. The first game confirmed all of those fears as the “O.M.G Line” was absolutely destroyed in the 6-4 loss. In order to correct things, Jeff Blashill made a few changes to the lineup on Friday. Let’s take a look at the lineups and goaltending battle:
THE RED WINGS
Blashill didn’t just make changes, he made big changes to the Red Wings’ forward lines. The most significant change is Andreas Athanasiou in for Steve Ott. Athanasiou won’t just be inserted into the lineup, but he will play on the top line with Frans Nielsen and Henrik Zetterberg. Athanasiou has blazing speed last year he was a positive possession player and had a goals per 60 (GF60) of 2.8. His infusion of speed will be huge for the Red Wings on Saturday.
Moving him to the top line changes a lot up front. Firstly, it moves Justin Abdelkader into Ott’s spot on the fourth line. In just over seven minutes on Thursday, that fourth line managed to give up a whopping 17 shots. That’s 2.43 shots per minute, that’s absurdly bad. Abdelkader is a much better hockey player than Ott and should help that fourth line immediately. Tomas Tatar also gets bumped down to the second line with Dylan Larkin and Riley Sheahan. Larkin and Tatar both looked good individually on Thursday, but their lines didn’t do much. Finally, the only line that will stay intact is the third line of Gustav Nyqvist-Darren Helm-Thomas Vanek. Analytically speaking, this was the Red Wings best line on Thursday and it was a nice Red Wings’ debut for Vanek, who scored their first two goals of the year.
The blueline underwent some minor changes as well. The pairing of Danny DeKeyser-Alexey Marchenko was expected to be Detroit’s shutdown pair, but they were ravaged by the Lightning, so that pairing is no more. Mike Green, who was the Red Wings’ best player on Thursday, will play alongside DeKeyser and Marchenko moves to the second pair with Brendan Smith.
All of these changes should help the Red Wings tonight. Getting Athanasiou in for Ott is enough to improve the lineup, but to give him an opportunity on the first line is huge. Hopefully Athanasiou has a great game and gives Blashill no choice but to keep him in the top-6 this season.
The Panthers come into 2016-17 with a new-look, in more ways than one. They have new jerseys, which are slick, but they also come in with a new-looking lineup, some of that because of offseason signings, but most of it because of preseason injuries.
Luckily for the Red Wings, the Panthers will be without Jonathan Hubderdeau (leg) and Nick Bjugstad (hand) for their first meeting of the year. With Huberdeau out, former Lightning forward Jonathan Marchessault will play on the top line with Aleksander Barkov and Jaromir Jagr. He is no Huberdeau, but scored a goal in the opener and Barkov scored the OT winner, so this is the line to watch. Their second line of Jussi Jokinen-Vincent Trocheck-Reilly Smith has been together forever and they killed the Red Wings last year. In their four meetings, Jokinen had five assists, Trocheck has three goals and one assist and Smith had one goal and three assists—that’s a combined four goals and nine assists (13 points). With Bjugstad out, rookie Denis Malgin will play in his second career NHL game in-between two new comers, Jared McCann and Colton Sceviour. Their fourth line is not as good as the Lightning’s, so hopefully they don’t do as much damage as Cedric Paquette and Brian Boyle did on Thursday.
On the blueline, Aaron Ekblad is one of the best young defensemen in the NHL and he has a new partner this year in Keith Yandle. They make-up their top-pair and their top-offensive pairing as well. Mike Matheson went full beast mode to setup Barkov for the OT winner on Thursday and plays with Jason Demers—a second pairing that can also produce offensively.
Overall, the Panthers are going to be a dangerous team this season, but they are banged up right now and the Red Wings need to take advantage of that. Florida is going to be a great team when they get healthy, so they need two get two points when this team is susceptible.
BETWEEN THE PIPES
Blashill has already confirmed that Petr Mrazek will get the start again tonight. Mrazek gave up five goals on 35 shots in the season opener, but the stat line doesn’t tell a good story. Three of the five Lightning goals were scored on the on the power-play and if it weren’t for Mrazek, Tampa Bay would have had seven or eight goals. He made a number of highlight reel saves and only gave up one bad goal. Despite giving up five goals and losing the game, there were positives to take away from Mrazek’s performance.
For the Panthers, Roberto Luongo will likely get the nod. The 37-year-old stopped 23 of 24 shots in the Panthers’ opener. He faced the Red Wings three times last year, going 2-1-0 with a 2.65 GAA and .918 SV%. It was also tough to beat Luongo on home ice a season ago—the veteran was 21-9-2.
A RIVALRY IS BREWING
The Red Wings and Panthers have seen a lot of each other since the Red Wings joined the Eastern Conference and they will see a lot of each other this year. Detroit’s rivalry with the Lightning is evident, but this one is brewing as well. Both good teams who will be battling each other for a playoff spot all year.
Here’s a nice tilt between “fourth liners” Abdelkader and Derek MacKenzie from a season ago. Because, who doesn’t like to watch a good fight, also it will allow you to start your day with a good cry when you see #13 Datsyuk skate around the ice i na Red Wings’ uniform.
WHERE TO WATCH
Puck drop is at 7:00 p.m. ET at BB&T Center in Sunrise, Florida. You can watch it on Fox Sports Detroit or listen to it on 97.1 FM The Ticket.
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