Dallas Stars: Jeff Taffe
Q: Give us a quick scouting report on the Panthers. They are near the bottom of the standings. Why are they struggling?
A: The problems associated with their slow start appear to be coming from several different areas: While adequate during a few games, the goaltending has been subpar. The presumed "stars" of the club (Steven Weiss, Nathan Horton, and David Booth - now out with a concussion) have not produced even close to their potential. And has the group tuned out coach Peter DeBoer, or have his strategies simply been ineffective?
Q: Steven Reinprecht appears to have started the season well, leading the team in goals and points. What makes him such a good player?
A: After a mere 10 games in a Panthers uniform, we're all still getting to know him. He was brought in as a second-line center; perhaps he's out to prove otherwise. In any case, he's been the most solid and adaptable player on the roster. A few more like him and fortunes could change quickly.
Q: Talk about the Panthers' lines. What can Stars fans expect to see from the top line? Which line has played the best lately?
A: Since last weekend -- when LW Booth and RW Radek Dvorak suffered injuries -- the lines have been experimental. In the one game since last Saturday in Philadelphia, Coach Pete has played mix-and-match, completely out of necessity (though one could argue few combinations were working effectively anyway prior to that). C Dominic Moore -- also battered with a broken nose in that infamous Flyers match one week ago -- will be undergoing nasal surgery, forcing the callup of Jeff Taffe from Rochester. Also up from the Amerks', Kendall McArdle and Michal Repik, who arrived several days ago and had a strong debut against Ottawa. Plug them in wherever you choose. Which line has played the best? That's up for debate, since none have found their groove yet, and with players transitioning in-and-out so frequently, it's not really a valid question at this point. Easy answer: they've all been lousy.
Q: Florida is near the bottom of the league in special teams. What has been the big issue on the penalty kill and power play?
A: Same as with the regular lines: they all appear snake-bitten. The strategies haven't looked all that solid, either, meaning the offense can't keep possession on the PP and the defense cannot force turnovers on the PK. None of the combinations have looked comfortable. Rookie Dmitry Kulikov, however, has been a bright spot, with four assists (all on the power play).
Q: Will the Stars see Tomas Vokoun in nets? Talk about his season so far.
A: As I write this, Florida's goaltender for this evening has not been publicly announced, but with another game on Saturday (St. Louis), Vokoun will certainly see a start at some point over the next 36 hours. He hasn't been "bad", just inconsistent. And when facing the insane number of shots which the Panthers seem organizationally obligated to allow, not many other netminders in this league could handle the weight of it. Craig Anderson was one. Roberto Luongo was another. Scott Clemmensen - the Cats' current "backup" - carried the torch for New Jersey during a healthy portion of last season, albeit facing a far less shot average each night. Bottom line: the lousy start can't be hung entirely at Vokoun's door.
Q: Are there any injuries to report?
A: Where to begin? As noted above, Booth is out at least a week -- though probably more -- with concussion symptoms. Dvorak is nursing a minor ligament tear in his knee. Moore's getting his nose reconstructed, and Nick Tarnasky has been out since the exhibition season with a broken orbital bone suffered in a fight. Oh, and D Bryan Allen is playing staggered games in an effort to ween him back into full-time duty after sitting out primarily all of last year following surgery. Other than that - and D/F Ville Koistinen not knowing what his role will be from night-to-night, everything's awesome.
Q: What Florida players should Stars fans keep an eye on tonight?
A: Reinprecht, for his recent dynamic play demands it. Kulikov is another: and keep in mind he turned 19 yesterday. Michal Repik is gaining a reputation (in the AHL) for highlight-reel moves, and he's just plain fun to watch. Michael Frolik is always dangerous.
Q: Anything else about the Panthers that Stars fans should know?
A: Each year Florida struggles to find that all-important "identity"; the search goes on. In light of recent injuries, this is not too surprising, but the rot began earlier than one week ago. A blown-lead 4-3 home loss to Ottawa on Wednesday evidently has much of the club hopeful about the future for some reason; whether that translates into success this weekend is anyone's guess. Your classic enigma.