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Panthers start season against resurgent Oilers

by Brian Hunter
PANTHERS (0-0-0) at OILERS (1-0-0)

Season series:
This is the only meeting of the 2010-11 season between these clubs. Edmonton won the most recent matchup, 3-2 in Florida on Dec. 7, 2009, as Robert Nilsson and Shawn Horcoff connected in the shootout. Horcoff also scored in regulation for the Oilers and Dustin Penner forced overtime with a third-period goal. Jeff Deslauriers finished with 21 saves and also denied two of three shootout attempts by the Panthers.

Big story:
Edmonton will be gunning for a sweep of its season-opening, two-game homestand. Coming off a last-place finish in the overall NHL standings, the Oilers couldn't have asked for a better start than shutting out the rival Flames, 4-0, on opening night Thursday. It isn't time to start planning the Stanley Cup parade just yet, but the team definitely made a statement to its fans that this season is going to be different.
Team Scope:

Panthers: The wait is finally over, as Florida will become the final NHL team to open its season -- the other 29 had all played at least one game entering Sunday. The Panthers finished 15 points ahead of the Oilers in the standings last season, but they're sitting on a much longer playoff drought that dates all the way back to 2000. This is the start of a three-game swing through western Canada, and goaltender Tomas Vokoun is determined his team come out of it with some victories.

"We were focused on getting off to good starts before, and it hasn't worked out," he told the Miami Herald. "We have to get a better start because we're not the kind of team that can chase teams down by getting eight-game winning streaks going. Everyone realizes that. We have to be consistent throughout the year."
Oilers: Taylor Hall may yet go on to win the Calder Trophy -- there are still 81 games remaining in the regular season for Edmonton, after all -- but it was another rookie on the ice at Rexall Place who stole the No. 1 pick's thunder on Thursday. Jordan Eberle, the Oilers' first-round selection in the 2008 Entry Draft, also made his NHL debut and scored a spectacular shorthanded goal to spark a three-goal third period against the Flames. Eberle also picked up the primary assist on a power-play strike by Horcoff, the new captain. A healthy Nikolai Khabibulin turned aside all 37 shots he faced.

"Unbelievable," Eberle said of Khabibulin. "It was amazing. You feel so comfortable with him back there. You can afford to give up a shot and you just know it's not going to go in."
Who's hot: The Panthers' penalty-killing unit was perfect through 33 shorthanded situations during the preseason before allowing a pair of power-play goals against the Lightning in their finale. … Khabibulin is coming off his 42nd career shutout and first since the 2008-09 season when he was with the Blackhawks.

Injury report: Florida placed forward Byron Bitz (groin) on injured reserve. Forward Marty Reasoner (knee) is questionable for Sunday's game, while forward Christopher Higgins (groin) and defenseman Dmitry Kulikov (foot) are expected to play. … Edmonton forward Jean-Francois Jacques is on injured reserve following back surgery.

Stat pack: Since the 2005-06 season, the Panthers have gone 46-64-17 in the first two months, underscoring Vokoun's warning that the team must find a way to start stronger. … Oilers defenseman Ryan Whitney finished with a pair of assists while seeing a game-high 24:47 of ice time in their opener.

Puck drop:
Hall impressed during training camp with his maturity as much as his offensive ability, and it showed Friday in his comments following the season-opening win.

"I think we've just got to stay humble and realize that it's just one out of 82 games; there's going to be ups, there's going to be downs, but if we can stay on an even keel -- but carry confidence into the next game knowing that we can be a good team," Hall said.
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