Florida Panthers

Florida Panthers’ season of high hopes finally set to start

Coach Gerard Gallant, center, and his Panthers will start their season Saturday night at home against the Flyers.
Coach Gerard Gallant, center, and his Panthers will start their season Saturday night at home against the Flyers. Sun Sentinel

The Panthers will be one of the final three teams to finally open their season Saturday when they play host to Philadelphia at BB&T Center.

Although the Panthers have been sitting around waiting to kick off their season, they won't be listless for long.

Saturday's opener begins a run of five games in a span of a week.

The NHL season officially opened Wednesday with eight teams in action.

"Unfortunately we're well rested after not getting where we wanted last year,'' captain Willie Mitchell said Friday.

"We're going to play a lot of hockey in a short period of time. But we're excited. There's anticipation for a fresh slate and Lord Stanley is up for grabs. That's why we're playing.''

The Panthers will play a home-and-home series with the Flyers on Saturday and Monday before playing in Carolina on Tuesday. The Panthers then return home for a pair of games against the Sabres (Thursday) and Stars (next Saturday).

For a team that hopes to build on last year's 91-point season and advance to the playoffs for just the fifth time in franchise history, a quick start will be most beneficial.

"It kind of sucks we had to wait to get going but you have to play what's coming at you,'' Brian Campbell said. "Philadelphia already got their opener out of the way so we need to get off to a good start.''

The Panthers played six preseason games but haven't seen game-action since losing to Tampa Bay in the exhibition finale last weekend.

Coach Gerard Gallant has had a week of practice with his team as the roster was finalized on Monday.

On Saturday, the Panthers finally get to play a game that counts. Washington and Anaheim are the other two teams which will kick off the season on Saturday.

"We had a lot of time off to practice obviously, and maybe it would have been nice to have another preseason game in there,'' Gallant said. "We got a lot of things done and we'll play the same team back-to-back. I think it's a good thing. Philly is a good team, have some scoring power. They move the puck well.''

The Panthers didn't make many offseason moves after a strong end to last year in which they won 12 of their final 20 and remained in the hunt for a playoff spot until the final weeks.

Florida's four forward lines Saturday will look similar to last year's combinations.

The big changes are Reilly Smith joining the second line after coming over from Boston in a trade for Jimmy Hayes and Quinton Howden taking a spot on the opening night fourth line.

Rookie Connor Brickley isn't expected to play Saturday but he should be in the lineup soon.

Florida's top six defensemen remain the same from the final weeks of last year with Steven Kampfer and Dylan Olsen offering depth.

"I like what's happening to our franchise,'' general manager Dale Tallon said. "I wanted to go with our young guys ... and they're going to get a chance to play. That's how we develop a core.''

-- Forward Rocco Grimaldi, who will open the season on the injured list, skated Friday for the first time since injuring an ankle in a preseason game against Dallas three weeks ago.

"The doctors will evaluate him [Saturday] and we'll see where we go from there,'' Tallon said.

-- Because of the Miami-FSU game, the Panthers' local radio call will be moved from 560-WQAM to 1470-WWNN.

Doug Plagens, formerly of the AHL Lake Erie Monsters in Cleveland, makes his debut alongside analyst Bill Lindsay.

Saturday: Flyers at Panthers

When, where: 7 p.m.; BB&T Center, Sunrise

TV/Radio: FSN; WWNN-1470/WNMA-1210 (Spanish)

Series: Philadelphia leads 47-32-7

Scouting report: The Panthers are 3-0-1 in their past four season openers. Philadelphia lost its opener in overtime at Tampa Bay on Thursday. The two play again Monday in Philadelphia.