Season Series: Florida leads the season series 1-0 after topping the Bolts, 3-2, in a shootout Saturday night at BankAtlantic Center.
Big Story: As the Panthers and Lightning polish off the second half of a home-and-home, the Lightning will look to finally get moving after a surprisingly slow start to the season.
Panthers: Most in the League would agree that the largely re-made Panthers are a work in progress, but they probably wouldn't have expected the progress to start showing so quickly. Granted three games isn't exactly indicative of how the Cats will fare over the marathon of an 82-game season, but after shutting out the Islanders in their season opener and outlasting the Lightning in their home opener Saturday night, the Panthers are holding their own through three games. Not bad for the team that finished the 2010-11 season with the third-worst record in the League.
That said, the road certainly doesn't get much easier for Florida this month. After the Panthers leave Tampa Bay Monday night they'll have to fly up to D.C. to face the undefeated Capitals just 24 hours later. The rest of October will continue to test the Panthers' mettle with games against Montreal and Buffalo, but if Florida is still standing by November, it could be sign Dale Tallon's changes in Sunrise are starting to take.
Lightning: After an impressive postseason run last spring, the Bolts looked like a likely candidate to compete for the Southeast title this season. While there is still plenty of time for Tampa Bay to pull into the mix, the team hasn't come out of the gate quite as quickly as coach Guy Boucher might have liked. After trouncing Carolina in their season opener, the Lightning have gone on to lose four straight games, including shootout losses to division-rivals Florida and Washington.
The light at the end of that tunnel, however, is that the Bolts also haven't actually had the chance to play in front of their home crowd yet. Monday will mark Tampa Bay's home opener, a particularly late one considering the Lightning didn't participate in the NHL's European Premiere Series. A return to the St. Pete Times Forum could be just what the road-weary Lightning need to start striking.
Who's Hot: Marc-Andre Bergeron is giving Tampa Bay a boost form the blue line with a three-game point streak that includes two goals against Florida Saturday night. ... Kris Versteeg has been solid early for the Panthers, tallying a point in all three games they've played this season.
Injury Report: Jose Theodore could continue to be in for a heavy workload in net as the Panthers wait for Scott Clemmensen to come back following knee surgery. Mattias Ohlund is on IR indefinitely for the Bolts following arthroscopic knee surgery earlier this month.
Stat Pack: Monday's home opener should be a harbinger of good things to come for the Bolts. Last season Tampa Bay won 25 games at the St. Pete Times Forum. No one in the Eastern Conference won more.
Puck Drop: With the longest playoff drought in the League, Florida has a lot of work to do to rebuild its image in the Southeast. Sweeping an early season home-and-home against a division rival that nearly reached the Stanley Cup Final last season would be a nice way to start.