Florida Panthers

Five things to watch with Florida Panthers

Florida Panthers center Aleksander Barkov (16) celebrates his goal against the Tampa Bay Lightning with teammates Jonathan Huberdeau (11), Jussi Jokinen (36) and Brian Campbell (51) during the first period of an NHL preseason hockey game Saturday, Oct. 4, 2014, in Tampa, Fla.
Florida Panthers center Aleksander Barkov (16) celebrates his goal against the Tampa Bay Lightning with teammates Jonathan Huberdeau (11), Jussi Jokinen (36) and Brian Campbell (51) during the first period of an NHL preseason hockey game Saturday, Oct. 4, 2014, in Tampa, Fla. AP

1. 'Special' Teams: The Panthers were horrific last year both in killing off penalties and trying to score with the advantage becoming the first time in four years to finish last in both categories. Newcomers like Dave Bolland, Derek MacKenzie and Jussi Jokinen should help.

2. Young Guns: The Panthers have stockpiled some talent over the years and now it's time for players such as Aleksander Barkov, Jonathan Huberdeau, Nick Bjugstad and Erik Gudbranson to take center stage.

3. Roberto's Back: Goalie Roberto Luongo rejoined the team in March but by then the season was over. Starting a new season with No. 1 in goal gives the Panthers hope that this year will be different.

4. Shootout Specials: Florida has traditionally been one of the league's worst team in the shootout, but players like Brad Boyes, Jokinen, Huberdeau and Bjugstad gives the Panthers an edge for that extra point in the standings these days.

5. Bounceback Cats: The Panthers are desperate for scoring after Bjugstad's 38 points was the lowest point total to ever lead an NHL team. Tomas Fleischmann (nine goals), Tomas Kopecky (four) and Huberdeau (eight) could help things out.

Five games to watch

1. Florida at Tampa Bay, Thursday, 7:30 p.m.: The Panthers open the season across the Alley but then don't play the Lightning again until March 1.

2. Florida at Vancouver, Jan. 8, 10 p.m.: Roberto Luongo returns to face the Canucks in Vancouver for the first time since being traded to Florida in June.

3. Los Angeles at Florida, Feb. 5, 7:30 p.m.: The defending Stanley Cup champs come to South Florida once this year. This is it.

4. New York Rangers at Florida, Dec. 31, 6 p.m.: It's usually a festive time at the arena for the annual New Year's Eve game and the Rangers are the defending east champs.

5. New Jersey Devils at Florida, Apr. 11, 7:30 p.m.: The Panthers open and close their home schedule against Pete DeBoer's Devils. Are either team still alive for a playoff berth at the end?

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