Minnesota Wild @ Florida Panthers: Game preview

Mike Carlson

Get your hockey fix a little early with today's game preview

Welcome to your game day preview Wilderness. Tonight's game is shaping up to be a great one, with Mike Yeo talking to the media this afternoon and revealing that he is in fact switching the forward lines up for the game.

Jason Pominville will move back up to the first line, reuniting the Captain Line. Nino Niederreiter moves back to the second line with Mikael Granlund, and Matt Cooke switches spots with Dany Heatley. Who thought Matt Cooke would be on the second line this season? (Put your hands down you liars)

Kevin from LitterBoxCats took some time this morning to answer a couple questions for our preview, so make sure to swing over to the site and thank him. While you're there, check out my answers to his round of questions about the Wild.

Minnesota fans always like know how former Minnesotan high school/college players are doing. How's Nick Bjugstad doing?

Bjugstad unfortunately sustained a concussion midway through the September prospect tournament, and missed a few weeks. After skating 13 shifts for the Panthers on Tuesday in the loss to the Nashville Predators, he earned his first point of the season (and his first career assist) against the Boston Bruins on Thursday. Although he's out of place at times, and he's still developing his game at the NHL level, it's clear his natural talent will eventually gel into a more rounded game. He is clearly the future of the Panthers.

Are Panther fans enjoying or hating Tim Thomas so far?

Have you ever watched this guy? He has no technique to speak of, didn't start regularly in the NHL until he was 31, and just took a whole season off. There's no rhyme or reason to justify why he has succeeded at the NHL level. After a season opening victory in Dallas, Thomas looked a little rustier in his next two games, allowing seven goals in a 47 minute span and culminating in a hamstring injury. Thursday night, he looked a lot better in his home debut against his former club (the Bruins). He gave up two in the first before buckling down and keeping the Cats in the game. Florida came back to tie it up and were headed to the extra frame until Thomas gave up a heartbreaker with less than a minute to go. As to your question: he's certainly entertaining, and I think we're all cautiously optimistic about what he can do over the season.

You guys are typically known for having losing seasons. Do you think this season will be different?

No.

The Panthers do have a plan to get better. The future of the organization is starting to fall into place. Bjugstad, Jacob Markstrom, Drew Shore, Jonathan Huberdeau, and Aleksander Barkov are all already contributing at the top level. What you're seeing here is the blueprint at work. We got a bonus sneak peek of the postseason a few seasons early in 2012, but didn't really expect to see it until 2015 or so. This season, the Panthers seem to be headed for their all too familiar spot at the bottom of the standings.

What are the biggest strengths/weaknesses for the Panthers this season?

I answered this question for Stanley Cup of Chowder for Thusday's game:

"The team struggles in all aspects of their game, excepting the penalty kill, which is inexplicably excellent. Backchecking is virtually nonexistent, and you can count on the team to forecheck for a period each night, two at most. Several players (Brian Campbell, Erik Gudbranson, Kris Versteeg) are guilty at times of being careless with the puck, mostly in the defensive zone. The factor common to all these problems: coaching. If the current coaching staff can't figure out a way to get more out of the Panthers, then the front office should think about rotating some personnel. Either that, or we Panther fans are in for another long season."

See you back here around 5:30 for the game thread Wilderness

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