M&G: What is your team's biggest strength?
Kevin Kraczkowski (LBC): The biggest strength I can think of is Florida’s nice mix of grizzled old veterans and recent draft picks. On one end of the spectrum, they can count on Brother Louie night in and night out to provide a solid presence between the pipes.
On the blueline, Brian Campbell and Willie Mitchell represent 30 years of NHL experience, as well as 186 collective postseason contests and three Stanley Cups. They’re offset by youngsters Dmitry Kulikov (just 24-year-old but in his seventh season), Alex Petrovic, the hulking Erik Gudbranson and last season’s ROY Aaron Ekblad.
Jaromir Jagr (43) gets all the press out of the Panthers’ forecourt, but Derek MacKenzie (34), Shawn Thornton (38) and Jussi Jokinen (32) have also played a ton of NHL games, and also have some hardware on their shelves. Sure, Jagr has taught the youngsters a thing or two, but Aleksander Barkov, Nick Bjugstad and Jonathan Huberdeau have also benefitted from such a deep pool of NHL experience as the other veterans have had to offer.
Also – watch out for Vincent Trocheck. He’s probably the best Panther that you haven’t heard of. He scores goals in bunches when he’s "on," and he seems to have a nose for the net.
Who has been Florida’s stand-out player so far this season?
I hate to keep going back to the tried-and-true answers on this type of question, but the truth of the matter is the best player has been and even now continues to be none other than Roberto Luongo. He’s also a blast to follow on Twitter, if you haven’t already. His 3-5-2 win-loss record is not reflective of his overall performance. His .931 save percentage is 10 points above his career average, and a 2.30 GAA is also a slight improvement over his career 2.50 mark.
As far as the skaters go, keep your eyes peeled for Derek MacKenzie. Oh, I’m not going to say that he’s a superstar – far from it, in fact. This is the guy that the Panthers need to count on to show a lot of energy and determination. He’s always at 100% overdrive – on the forecheck – laying guys out – digging in the corners – on both ends. I’m not much for advanced stats, but his plus/minus rating of plus-7 is four better than anyone else on the team. Also cut from this mold – if a little more skilled – is second liner Reilly Smith. He’s always in the thick of whatever is happening out there.
What do you think your team needs to work on in order to win the up-coming game?
Have you seen what the Panthers have been up to lately? After a pretty hot start, they’ve lost their last five in a row by a combined 17-to-7 score. This all started, coincidentally, I’m sure, when wunderkind Aleksander Barkov was put on the injured list about two weeks ago – for a wrist injury. He isn’t the only reason the Panthers have taken a nosedive in the time since, but it didn’t help either. He serves as the lynchpin for Florida’s first line, bordered by 2013 ROY Jonathan Huberdeau and the unstoppable Jaromir Jagr. Neither player has really showed very much in the way of chemistry with first line replacement Nick Bjugstad - who was Florida’s leading scorer last season.
In order to compete with the Flames, they’ll need to find a way to get Calgary off their game. That’s the job of the fourth line, who had been populated by Thornton, MacKenzie and Quinton Howden. They’ve been mixed and matched in recent games – to fill holes higher in the hierarchy due to injury – and have in turn been spelled by Connor Brickley, Rocco Grimaldi and Garrett Wilson. Getting people off their game is the job of the guys on the lower lines - and these younger guys seem to be pretty good at it.
Thanks to Kevin for his time, make sure to check out Traci's answers at Litter Box Cats.