Florida’s roster is a blend of veteran experience and rising young talent, and that mix showed effectively from the start.
Put it this way:
The five-goal night was book-ended by the teenager Huberdeau and by a player, Alex Kovalev, who is more than twice the kid’s age, turning 40 next month. Kovalev already was skating professionally when Huberdeau was still in a crib.
Brian Campbell had a pair of power-play, slap-shot goals in between, and Scottie Upshall also had a power-play goal, while Jose Theodore was on the other end stopping all but one of 35 Carolina shots.
This night and victory were big because every game’s result gets magnified a little this season with the schedule cut almost in half. And also because Carolina is expected to be a primary challenger to Florida repeating as Southeast Division champ.
More than that, Saturday’s fast start was important because the ice remains a proving ground for this team.
Last year’s division title wasn’t enough.
Outside belief in the Panthers remains wanting.
ESPN.com’s NHL preview ranked Florida 22nd in the league, and Hockey Prospectus had the Cats 29th — second to last.
To them and many, it was as if last season never happened.
That’s OK with the Panthers though.
“What have you done for me lately — I believe in that,” Dineen said.
Last season brought that division banner newly raised but it didn’t bring the Panthers many believers.
Nights like Saturday will though, and so will the arrival of Jonathan Huberdeau.
You got the feeling we may be seeing quite a lot of him in that ridiculous red hat.
It isn’t what you’d call a good look, but it’s something a guy could get used to.