Preview: Panthers & Stars Face off in Big D

Saturday night at the American Airlines Center, the Dallas Stars and Florida Panthers will ring in the new year together. It’s only fitting, as you’d be hard-pressed to find two teams with more in common.

Both clubs made major personnel changes on the blue line last summer. Both have battled injuries to multiple forwards from preseason to the present. Both have been forced by circumstances to make significant in-season strategic adjustments.

The difference between Dallas and Florida is that the Stars, 5-1-1 in their last seven games and winners of three straight, seemed to have turned the corner, while the Panthers, who enter tonight’s game with three consecutive overtime or shootout losses, have not.

The Cats are getting close, though. “It’s basically one bounce away, right?” said Florida defenseman Michael Matheson. “You get into three overtimes in a row, if all three of those had gone our way, we’d be feeling much differently…If one play had gone our way, we’d still be playing the exact same way, but have three wins instead. It’s that close, and hopefully, some of those plays start going our way.”

Panthers interim head coach Tom Rowe offered a more detailed analysis. “I think we’re close…it’s just cleaning up some little things in our defensive system. Even more than the system, it’s back to managing the puck, when we’re trying to make plays that aren’t there.” Rowe added, “When we manage the puck well and we get it deep when we have to, we’re a really good team. When we don’t do that, we’re an average team, like everybody else.”

Watching Florida lately is much like watching Dallas a few weeks ago. Will the last game of 2016 see the Panthers turn the corner, or will the Stars continue to roll?

Florida Panthers at Dallas Stars

American Airlines Center – 7:00 pm CST

Broadcast channels – FS-SW, FS-F

2016-17 Season Series: First Meeting of the Season

Florida Panthers: 15-14-8  38 Points

Road Record: 6-8-5

Hot Players: Jason Demers, Jonathan Marchessault and Vincent Trocheck 

Key Injuries: Aleksander Barkov, Jonathan Huberdeau, Colton Sceviour and Alex Petrovic

Projected lines:


Seth Griffith – Vincent Trocheck – Jaromir Jagr

Jussi Jokinen – Nick Bjugstad – Reilly Smith

Jonathan Marchessault – Michael Sgarbossa – Denis Malgin

Greg McKegg – Derek MacKenzie – Shawn Thornton


Keith Yandle – Jason Demers

Michael Matheson – Aaron Ekblad

Jakub Kindl – Mark Pysyk


Roberto Luongo


Dallas Stars: 16-14-7 – 39 Points

Home Record: 11-5-3

Hot Players: Kari Lehtonen, Tyler Seguin, Jamie Benn and Jason Spezza

Key Injuries: Antoine Roussel, Mattias Janmark and Ales Hemsky

Projected lines:


Jamie Benn – Tyler Seguin – Jason Spezza

Curtis McKenzie – Radek Faksa – Brett Ritchie

Patrick Sharp – Devin Shore – Patrick Eaves

Lauri Korpikoski – Cody Eakin – Jiri Hudler


Esa Lindell – John Klingberg

Dan Hamhuis – Jamie Oleksiak

Johnny Oduya – Jordie Benn


Antti Niemi

Game Notes

[miptheme_dropcap style=”normal” color=”#222222″ background=””]1)[/miptheme_dropcap] Dallas’ Antti Niemi and Florida’s James Reimer are the starting netminders tonight. While the former comes as no surprise, the latter is somewhat interesting, since Reimer started the Cats’ last game, a 3-2 overtime loss to Montreal. The Panthers don’t play again until Wednesday, so perhaps Rowe just wanted to give 37-year-old Roberto Luongo a longer break.

[miptheme_dropcap style=”normal” color=”#222222″ background=””]2)[/miptheme_dropcap] Patrick Sharp returns to action for Dallas tonight. He’s been out since December 1 with concussion-related issues but is now healthy and ready to go. The Stars didn’t do line rushes this morning, so the guess here is that Sharp plays on the left wing with Devin Shore and Patrick Eaves. Mike Heika disagrees. We’ll see who’s right.

[miptheme_dropcap style=”normal” color=”#222222″ background=””]3)[/miptheme_dropcap] Florida (and former Dallas) winger Reilly Smith also returns to action tonight, after sustaining a concussion against Detroit December 23. He’s expected to skate on a line with Jussi Jokinen and Nick Bjugstad.

[miptheme_dropcap style=”normal” color=”#222222″ background=””]4)[/miptheme_dropcap] It’s a Small World: Injuries, defense corps changes and strategic adjustments aren’t the only things the Stars and Panthers have in common. Florida’s roster features five former Stars (Jason Demers, Colton Sceviour, Reilly Smith, Jussi Jokinen and Jaromir Jagr), while Dallas winger Jiri Hudler was acquired by the Panthers at the trade deadline last season and played the final 19 games, plus playoffs, with them.

[miptheme_dropcap style=”normal” color=”#222222″ background=””]5)[/miptheme_dropcap] It’s a Small World, Part Two: Florida associate coach Dave Barr played for the Stars during their inaugural season in Dallas. While he was in Big D in 1993-94, the expansion Florida Panthers had an assistant coach named Lindy Ruff and a defenseman familiar to Stars fans, Brent Severyn. Also, Reilly Smith and Curtis McKenzie were teammates in college, while Florida TV analyst Randy Moller and Ruff were teammates with the New York Rangers from 1989-91. Last, but not least, Hudler and Jagr have been friends for years.